Playing Tetris or indulging in similar video games can alter your brain’s structure and processes, according to research due to be published later this week. The research, which will appear in the open-access journal BMC Research Notes, was funded by Tetris licence-holder Blue Planet Software and was carried out at the MIND Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over a three-month period.
Using MRI scans, the researchers showed that the 15 girls, ranging in age from 12 to 15, who undertook Tetris practice over three months, registered significant increases in cortical thickness compared to the 11-person control group, as well as functional changes in other areas.
Those playing Tetris played for an average of 1.5 hours per week over the three-month period, playing the 40-lines variant of the puzzle classic. None of the girls in the test had significant exposure to Tetris before the study, nor had any reported a previous interest in video games. Those who played were found to have significantly increased cortical thickness values for two regions of the brain (the left superior frontal gyrus and the left anterior superior temporal gyrus), as well as changes in activity in the right hemisphere of the brain while playing Tetris when compared to those in the control group. No conclusive patterns were noted in these changes in the right hemisphere by the researchers, but this could, they said, be due to the limitations of the MRI scanning methodology used to detect brain activity.
The changes in the frontal areas of the brain were consistent with other studies of the effects of visual-spatial tasks, the researchers said. The researchers concluded in a prepublication version of the paper, "Whether practiced Tetris play and associated cortical changes generalize to performance changes in other cognitive domains (e.g. working memory, processing speed, spatial reasoning) is not yet determined." The paper also notes that Richard Haier, who co-authored the experiment with Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico's Neurosurgery Department, is employed as a consultant for Blue Planet Software but that the funders "had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript."