Can Video Games Improve One’s Mental Health?
Today, many people think of video games in a negative connotation, with high violent content and childhood obesity coming to their minds. However, researchers are starting to discover that video games have the ability to be beneficial to the mental health of people of all ages.
Video Games as a “Fun” Treatment
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) affects about one in ten children worldwide. The idea that video games can improve a person’s mental health originated from doctors who theorized that video games might be able to build focus and concentration skills in children with ADHD. The leaders in the industry are seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a requirement for any medical device that doctors wish to prescribe. Imagine a market where parents can choose from an assortment of video games to help with their child’s mental health! The fields of psychology, medicine, and gaming would be revolutionized. An example of a company developing such games is Akili Interactive Labs. The company paid the Duke University School of Medicine and Florida Clinical Research Center to run a four-week study on 80 children diagnosed with ADHD. The game requires players to develop quick decision-making skills on top of a continuous motor task. Interestingly, researchers discovered that the game strengthens neural circuits responsible for key cognitive functions, such as attention and working memory. Children who struggle with focusing on a specific task may soon be cranking out a video game, which may not be an uncommon sight for the near future.
Reversal of Cognitive Decline in Old Age
On the other end of the spectrum, video games can also help senior citizens deal with the cognitive decline that comes with their age. It isn’t common to see grandma staring intensely at the screen as she races through a hilly racetrack, but don’t cancel out the chances. Many researchers assert that challenging your brain improves plasticity and function, no matter the age. Plasticity describes the brain’s ability to change and reshape itself in response to its environment. Interestingly enough, video game designers believe the aging brain can be improved with properly designed games. A team led by Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco conducted an experiment including a simple video game called NeuroRacer. The subjects, aged 60 through 85, played the game for an hour, three times a week, for one month. Cognitive tests carried out before and after the sessions with NueroRacer displayed improvement among the senior citizens in multi-tasking, attention, and working memory. Playing these games could help senior citizens exercise their brains and help prevent them from attaining other cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
The Takeaway: Video Games Can Have the Ability to Strengthen Brain Function
Video games have not been proven to cure a child’s ADHD or a senior citizen’s Alzheimer’s, but research is showing that they can help strengthen one’s neural connections and mental health. One day, this could potentially help patients suffering from certain mental illnesses, and for that matter, improve anyone’s mental strength.