Get ready to say “In your face!” to anyone who told you video games would rot your brain. Researchers at the University of Montreal published a study on Wednesday regarding the effectiveness of two different methods of keeping elderly brains sharp. People aged 55 to 75 were split into three groups, two of which were either learning piano for the first time or playing Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy for at least thirty minutes on five or more days a week for six months, and another group learning neither task. Researchers then monitored subjects’ grey matter in their hippocampus, cerebellum, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).
The older folks who did neither task “displayed significant grey matter loss” in all three brain areas. Meanwhile, the piano-playing group and the video game-playing group both experienced grey matter growth in the cerebellum. The bad news? Learning to play piano didn’t show much benefit to patients’ hippocampus, and video games didn’t appear to benefit the DLPFC. The good news? Playing video games appears to be awesome for an older person’s hippocampus, an area of the brain which is particularly important to our memory functions. Maintenance and growth of gray matter in the hippocampus can help stave off mental decline related to memory loss (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease).
It’s not clear yet if the benefits were specific to video games that require memorizing three-dimensional maps, as both games studied do, or if this would work with other games. It should also be noted the study was conducted on an extremely small sample size (only eight video game players, twelve piano players, and thirteen control group members). So before you pressure your grandma into making friends and influencing penguins, perhaps wait until more research is done. Maybe we can get Bill Gates to pay for it.