Your Parents Were Wrong About This Childhood Hobby Rotting Your Brain

All of those late nights playing Nintendo were actually really good for your brain, according to science.

As anyone who owned a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo in the 1990s will tell you, the constant battle with parents for just "five more minutes" of screen time needed to beat that level 14 boss was a never-ending one. But new research has shown that those hours spent playing video games may not actually have been rotting your brain, as your mom or dad warned. In fact, if you spent your childhood playing Sonic and Super Mario, you were secretly priming your memory for the rest of your life, the new study says.

The month-long research, which was conducted at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Spain and published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, examined the cognitive skills of 27 young adults between the ages of 18 and 40 while playing Nintendo's classic Super Mario 64. "People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result," researcher Marc Palaus, PhD, writes in the published report.

Palaus explains that far from damaging our brains, video games are actually a challenge for growing minds, and their increasing difficulty is what makes them so enticing.

"Video games are a perfect recipe for strengthening our cognitive skills, almost without our noticing," he writes.

Two kids hiding under covers while playing video games on their phones.

Much research has been done on video games and their effect on the brain, with many finding that they can have positive effects. A 2017 study—also helmed by Palaus—found that patients who underwent a video game training program saw the hippocampus sections of their brains grow larger. The study also found that avid gamers show improvements in both sustained and selective attention.

But don't go gloating to your parents just yet. Another study conducted at the University of Montreal in 2017 found that MRIs conducted on the brains of avid gamers who spent 19 hours or more a week on their consoles playing action-themed games had significantly less gray matter.

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Still, those conducting that study say it's not so much video games in general but the type of game that matters. "If I had to recommend a type of video game to someone, it would be a 3-D platform or logic puzzle game," Gregory West, PhD, the author of the study, told NPR. "The evidence is clear at this point that these games can be beneficial for the brain." And for more on how to get the most out of your neurons, check out Just This Many Minutes of Exercise Will Boost Your Brain, Study Says.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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