If you’re looking at your kid’s brand new PS4 and trying to decide if you’re an awesome or horrible parent for giving it to them, you have a lot in common with science. That’s because neuroscientists can’t decide if gaming zaps human brain cells or fires them up. But according to recent research presented at the annual Society For Neuroscience, the eggheads are beginning to agree on one thing: the neural effects of fast-paced action games are pretty interesting.
Researchers who study “environmental enrichment” (the theory that complex physical environments keep your brain sharp) proposed that 3D games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto create a virtual enriched environment through their vivid graphics and role playing. They found people who played these games had better memory skills and pattern separation — 2 indicators of cognitive strength — than those who played 2D games like Angry Birds or didn’t game at all. This all supports other recent research, which suggests storming virtual alien strongholds or driving recklessly through fake cities is actually better for your brain than so-called “brain games.” The findings even suggest that gaming could slow cognitive decline.
Then again, your kid isn’t at risk of cognitive decline. Meanwhile, anotherrecent study that analyzed South Korean kids with Internet Gaming Disorder found that — while those kids did have heightened cognitive abilities — they were also more likely to have bad impulse control and were more easily distracted. Internet Gaming Disorder sounds like a fake problem, but it’s legit enough that the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders chose to include it this year. And it’s estimated that 3 million American kids suffer from some sort of gaming addiction.
Given all that, the conclusion to draw about the kid’s new PS4 seems obvious: they should play less, and you should play more. So it was an awesome gift!