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Computer Game Tetris Improves Thinking


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Playing the computer game Tetris may boost gray matter in your brain, according to a new report which also suggests that regular idle act of fitting blocks together on a computer screen can improve thinking and increase "mental efficiency".

Tetris is a computer game, developed about 25 years ago by a Soviet computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov. The game requires players to score points by rotating different shaped blocks as they fall into position, so they form a straight completed line and then disappear from the screen. Till today Tetris remains one of the world's most popular computer games.

To come up with the conclusion, the scientists from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, United States, along with researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute, had MRIs, magnetic resonance imaging, done on twenty-six adolescent girls with the ages between 12 and 15 years old. All the girls were asked to play the popular computer game for 30 minutes on a daily basis over the course of 3 months. As a result, using two brain imaging techniques, the scientists discovered that compared with a control group of girls who did not play the puzzle game, the subjects demonstrated improved efficiency in different parts of the brain that were involved in critical thinking, reasoning as well as language and processing.

In addition, MRI scans also showed increases in matter in the brain's cortex, an area of the brain scientists believe plays a role in the planning of complex, coordinated movements, and integrating sensory experiences, such as vision, sound and touch, with other information. "What we found was a change in the brain after playing Tetris," says Dr. Richard Haier, a neurologist with the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, and a principal investigator of the project. "The thickness of the cerebral cortex actually increased, by less than half a millimeter."

All 26 participants had limited experience in playing computer games. The team chose adolescent girls because brain changes might be easier to detect in a young person, and also because boys, when compared to girls, tend to spend much more time playing computer games and might not demonstrate noticeable changes in the brain after practice. Tetris is a useful tool when it comes to brain research, the experts said, because this game involves a number of cognitive processes, such as attention, hand and eye coordination, memory and visual spatial problem solving working in combination very quickly.

The experts intend to continue their investigation on the matter with larger and more diverse samples in order to find out whether the brain changes they spotted revert back when the participants stop playing Tetris. At the same time, they are interested if the skills obtained while playing the game, and the associated brain changes, transfer to other cognitive areas such as working memory, processing speed, or spatial reasoning.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal BMC Research Notes.

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