“It’s often suggested that an active, engaged lifestyle can be a real factor in stemming cognitive [mental] aging. While we can’t all travel the world on vacation, we can do many other things to keep us cognitively engaged and active. Video games may be a nice, viable route,” study co-author Craig Stark, from the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine, said in a university news release.
The researchers tracked non-gamer college students who played either a 2-D or 3-D video game 30 minutes a day for two weeks.
Before and after the two-week period, the students were given a memory test designed to engage the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with complex learning and memory. Those who played the 3-D game showed improvement on the memory test, while those who played the 2-D game did not, the investigators found.
Memory performance among those who played the 3-D game improved about 12 percent, the same amount it normally declines between ages 45 and 70, according to the study authors.
The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and published Dec. 9 in The Journal of Neuroscience.
“First, the 3-D games have a few things the 2-D ones do not,” Stark said.
“They’ve got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they’re much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus,” he explained.
Further research is required to determine whether the hippocampus is stimulated by the large amount of information and complexity, or the spatial relationships and exploration in the 3-D video game, said Stark, a professor of neurobiology and behavior.
He and his colleagues will examine if environmental enrichment through 3-D video games or real-world exploration experiences can reverse age-related declines in hippocampus function. The research is funded by a $300,000 Dana Foundation grant.