Recently, a battery of studies has focused on the effects of technology on the brain. While some studies show deficits to memory, others show that technology may actually be boosting certain neural functioning. Many of these studies look at memory, especially the role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the hippocampus – which you may remember is widely associated with both visuospatial memory (e.g. Maguire) and the relaying of information from short-term to long-term memory (e.g. the patient H.M.). In particular, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), one of the newer evolved areas of the cerebral cortex (but we’re not talking centuries here!) has been linked to higher-order cognitive processing as well as working memory.
West et al. (2017) studied the effects of playing 3D platform video games on brain tissue volume. In particular, they looked at the key areas of the hippocampus, cerebellum, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in older adults.
Adults of 55 to 75 years of age were randomly placed into three groups. 8 participants were put into the video game experimental group, where they received video game training for a 3D-platform game training over 6 months (Super Mario 64). An active control group of 12 participants undertook a batch of self-directed, computerized piano music lessons for 6 months. A no-contact control group had no activity. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was used to measure changes in brain volume of the specific areas by comparing pre-study and post-study images.
After the training period, gray matter increase within the hippocampus of participants was significant only in the Super Mario 64 training group. This replicated earlier results observed in younger adults. Active control music training also led to within-subject volume increase in the DLPFC but was less significant. Both video game and music training produced growth in the cerebellum (associated with the fine coordination of movements, for example). The inactive control group, however, showed significant gray matter loss in the DLPFC, hippocampi, and cerebellum. So, when people suggest that video games are corrosive to cognitive functioning, they are being ignorant of studies that highlight their potential for strengthening cognitive functioning, potentially allowing an individual to postpone or potentially prevent the development of cognitive impairment associated with old age.
This study can be used for a number of questions related to cognitive psychology, especially related to memory and technology. However, with a little imagination and support from extra information on neuroplasticity, this study could also be used for biological questions pertaining to neuroplasticity and dendritic branching. Keep in mind, there are easier studies that relate to neuroplasticity without having to make complicated links (e.g. Maguire, 2000).