'Tetris' May Increase Brain Efficiency, New Mexico Study Finds

By Tricia Remark

New Mexico Daily Lobo, University of New Mexico in Albuquerque

Just because a video game distracts students from homework doesn’t mean it’s not making them smarter.

Scientists at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque completed a six-month study about the effects the game "Tetris" have on the brain.

Richard Haier, a "Tetris" study researcher, said his group recruited 26 adolescent girls who had no experience playing "Tetris" or most other video games. He said for three months, 15 girls were asked to play "Tetris" for about one hour per week and the other 11 girls played no "Tetris" at all.

Haier said the findings were unexpected.

“In the group that practiced "Tetris," the brain got more efficient in certain areas and the cortex also got thicker in certain areas,” Haier said. “The big surprise was that we thought (the changes) would be in the same areas, but they weren’t.”

Haier said the brain became more efficient in the frontal lobe of the brain, which means less blood flow to particular areas.

“We were interested in what changes take place in your brain when you learn something,” Haier said. “When you practice 'Tetris,' the brain seems to get more efficient because it uses less energy.”

Haier said that in addition to having parts of the girls’ brains become more efficient, the outer part of the brain — the cortex — showed some growth. He said he doesn’t know if these physical changes are beneficial.

“We’re not sure what the implication of a thicker cortex is, but we think it’s better,” Haier said. “We think you are getting more neurons or more synapses as a consequence of learning, but we don’t really know.”

Haier said his team scanned the brains of all 26 girls before and after the study. The team used functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, and there were significant brain changes shown in both, he said.

Rex Jung, an MRN researcher, said the scans show obvious changes in the brain, but he wants to do further studies with video games. He said he wants to find out how brain changes might affect other skills.

“We only tested Tetris, but it would have been interesting to see if the girls’ ability to remember or their ability to rotate geometric designs improved from playing 'Tetris,'” Jung said. “We just didn’t do that during this study.”

Jung said they want to repeat the study with adults to see if it can prevent memory deterioration. He said the MRN want to know whether mind games, like Brain Age, Sudoku, and "Tetris," which are marketed to older people, have measurable benefits.Student Tayler Nolan said she used to play "Tetris" a lot but doesn’t think that it made her smarter.

“I don’t think 'Tetris' has improved my brain capacity, but I think other more challenging games like Sudoku do,” Nolan said.

Nolan said she thinks some games have more critical thinking value than others. She said it would be interesting to see a Sudoku study compared to the "Tetris" study.“Sudoku makes you look at things in a different way,” she said. “'Tetris' is just a video game.”

Jung said Blue Planet Software, the owner of "Tetris," sponsored the $90,000 study but had nothing to do with the experiment, results or publication.

This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com

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