Brain Wave Study Predicts Mastery Over Video Games

First Posted: Oct 25, 2012 06:10 AM EDT

Brain waves can predict who will improve most on an unfamiliar video game. The researchers with the help of an electroencephalography looked at the electrical activity in the brain of 39 subjects before they trained on Space Fortress. None of the subjects were daily video game players.

pace Fortress is a video game that is specially designed for the development of cognitive research. According to the researchers the subjects whose brain oscillated the most powerfully in the alpha spectrum that is about 10 times per second or 10 hertz when measured at the front of the head tended to learn at a faster rate than those whose brain waves oscillated with less power.

According to Kyle Mathewson lead researcher and a postdoctoral researcher from University of Illinois, The EEG signal was a robust predictor of improvement on the game.

 "By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," Mathewson said. The EEG results predicted about half of the difference in learning speeds between study subjects, he said.

Mathewson states that, the waves of the electrical activity across the brain reflect the communication status of millions or billions neurons.

"These oscillations are the language of the brain, and different oscillations represent different brain functions," he said.

They noticed that learning to play the game improved subjects' reaction time and working memory. These two skills are important in everyday life.

"We found that the people who had more alpha waves in response to certain aspects of the game ended up having the best improvement in reaction time and the best improvement in working memory," Mathewson said.

One analysis, led by Beckman Institute director Art Kramer (an author on this study as well), found that the volume of specific structures in the brain could predict how well people would perform on Space Fortress. That study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the relative sizes of different brain structures.

With EEG, researchers can track brain activity fairly inexpensively while subjects are engaged in a task in a less constricted, less artificial environment, because the expesive MRI techniques requires them to lie immobile inside the giant magnet.

This new study offers clues to the mental states that appear to enhance one's ability to perform complex tasks.

"You can get people to increase their alpha brain waves by giving them some positive feedback," Mathewson said. "And so you could possibly boost this kind of activity before putting them in the game."

They describe their findings in a paper in the journal Psychophysiology.

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