Super Mario could help prevent dementia, scientists say

Playing video games like Super Mario for two months can improve brain capacity and help forestall dementia, say scientists. Researchers found that playing three-dimensional (3D) platform video games and puzzle or logic games was associated with a greater grey matter in the navigation area of the brain, The Telegraph reports.

Training on 3D video games is thought to increase grey matter in the hippocampus, which is vital for learning new skills, because players are required to use spatial memory processes to build a cognitive map of in-game environments.

The journal, published in PLOS ONE, also suggested that playing such games may result in brain growth in younger adults.

The study, conducted at the University of Montreal, showed that young people who played the 1996 game Super Mario 64 for just two months had increased spatial and episodic memory compared to those who trained on a two-dimensional game.

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the impact of learning on the hippocampal system.

The link between cognitive maps and increased grey matter in the hippocampus was first discovered in black taxi drivers, who undergo strenuous spatial memory training in order to navigate around London.

Researchers discovered that black cab drivers, who must pass a rigorous test commonly referred to as “the knowledge”, had more grey matter in the posterior hippocampus of their brains, compared to other drivers.

Greg West, associate professor at the University of Montreal, said he hoped that video game training could be applied to help prevent people developing degenerative conditions such as dementia.

He said: “No study to date has shown that video game training can directly increase grey matter in the hippocampus of older adults.

“The aim of the present study was therefore to directly test if 3D-platform video game training can increase grey matter in neural structures know to become dysfunctional during ageing.”

“Because of this, 3D-platform video game training holds promise to be applied to populations that are at increased risk for developing neurodegenerative disorders associated with decreased hippocampal integrity, such as older adults.”