Researchers from the Université de Montréal have published a study that found certain types of video games resulted in the loss of grey matter in the brain, while other types of video games resulted in an increase. Specifically, the study claims that gamers who frequently play first person shooter type video games like Call of Duty, Killzone, and Borderlands 2 lose grey matter mass in their brain.
Researchers say that in FPS gamers, the grey matter mass loss occurs in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that the scientists say is critical to healthy cognition.
On the other hand, the study also claims that people who play video games that require significant spatial learning, such as the Super Mario franchise or virtual reality-based games, can grow the amount of grey matter in the brain.
The study abstract states, "The hippocampus is critical to healthy cognition, yet results in the current study show that action video game players have reduced grey matter within the hippocampus. A subsequent randomised longitudinal training experiment demonstrated that first-person shooting games reduce grey matter within the hippocampus in participants using non-spatial memory strategies."
The study focused on gamers rounded-up into a control group that focused on training on 3D platforms.
"A control group that trained on 3D-platform games displayed growth in either the hippocampus or the functionally connected entorhinal cortex. A third study replicated the effect of action video game training on grey matter in the hippocampus. These results show that video games can be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system depending on the navigation strategy that a person employs and the genre of the game."
The results are significant because a reduction in grey matter in the hippocampus can result in an increased risk of certain conditions like depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and Alzheimer's disease. The study was performed by Gregory West of UdM and Véronique Bohbot of McGill, and they claim in the study that the reason 3D games that require spatial awareness are able to increase grey matter in the hippocampus because those games rely on that section of the brain more than the FPS titles. FPS titles rely more on the caudate nucleus, a section of the brain that allows people to run on autopilot.
Not all is bad news for gamers; "Video games have been shown to benefit certain cognitive systems in the brain, mainly related to visual attention and short-term memory," West said.