I can hear the refrain around the world: “See, Mom, I told you so.”
Playing the video game Tetris can rewire your brain to make it more efficient, a new study says. The Mind Research Network is announcing today the findings of a study about how playing the 25-year-old game helped adolescent girls in a three-month-long period.
The study was funded by Blue Planet Software, the current owner of Tetris, and the c0-investigator, Richard Haier of the Mind Research Network, is a paid consultant for the company. But in an interview, Haier said that study was scientific, it had its own control group, and it was performed by an independent research group at the Montreal Neurological Institute. The results will be published in the medical journal Biomedical Central Research Notes.
“We guessed your brain could become more efficient the more you do things like drive a car,” Haier said in an interview. “The more you do it, the more efficient the brain becomes and the less energy it uses. We can measure the energy use now.”
Haier used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain activity in the subjects who played Tetris regularly over three months. He compared the differences in 26 girls to another control group of girls who did not play the game. The girls who practiced Tetris showed greater brain efficiency. That is, the brain used less energy when it worked on familiar processing patterns. The girls who played Tetris also had a thicker cortex, meaning the game play triggered a structural change in the brain beyond the areas that became more efficient.
[Caption: Relative to controls, red areas show where practice led to a thicker cortex; blue areas show more efficient brain function after practice; right image is right hemisphere; left image is the left hemisphere]
“We did our Tetris study to see if mental practice increased cortical thickness, a sign of more gray matter,” said Rex Jung, co-investigator on the Tetris study and a clinical neuropsychologist. “If it did, it could be an explanation for why previous studies have shown that mental practice increases brain efficiency. More gray matter in an area could mean that the area would not need to work as hard during Tetris play.”
Haier (right) was the lead author of a 1992 study that found practicing Tetris led to greater brain efficiency. This new study reinforces that finding, but the results surprised him because it showed that the brain changed in other ways as a result of the Tetris play.
Haier said he remains interested in the subject of brain-training games, which some people contend can sharpen mental acuity and improve brain health of senior citizens. Those games have gotten a big boost since Nintendo launched Brain Age for the Nintendo DS a few years ago. But Haier said more research has to be done in that area.