A new study by neuroscience student Brendan Lehman at Laurentian University (Sudbury, Ontario, Canada) has found that video games activate parts of the brain that are usually activated through physical activity. Lehman, who says he has been playing video games since he was a "wee child," hopes his research will counter the belief that playing video games can "rot a person's brain."
"They’ve (video games) been going for 30 years-plus now," he said. "They’re still sort of stigmatized, because some of them are violent. It's another sort of misconception that certain media throw out to certain things they don't understand. When I talk about video games, it's like rock and roll in the 50s. And sure enough now, rock and roll is obviously widely accepted."
Citing research from York University that found that when people get engrossed in a movie or a book their brain treats it as though they're actually participating, Lehman said video game playing is even more engrossing and engaging to the user.
"My idea is that video games add an extra layer because you're actually interacting with it," he said. "You're providing input to the system that can change the output of it." Actions in games connected to real movement.
For his research, Lehman recruited students who are good at the role-playing video game Skyrim. While participants played the game, he measured their brain activity using a special cap with sensors.
Lehman said that his research has produced evidence that the part of the brain that lights up when a person is running or punching in real life becomes highly active when a player is running or punching in a game.
"That area of the brain is active when you get hit or you’re trying to move around," he said. "You’re actually projecting your body image onto where your character is."
For the second part of his thesis, Lehman hopes to develop his own game to promote healthy brain activity.
"That's a big portion of why I do this research. To make video games better and to make them a more meaningful experience," he said.
Lehman will formally present his research next month.