Concept: Super Mario 64
Maintaining grey matter within the hippocampus is important for healthy cognition. Playing 3D-platform video games has previously been shown to promote grey matter in the hippocampus in younger adults. In the current study, we tested the impact of 3D-platform video game training (i.e., Super Mario 64) on grey matter in the hippocampus, cerebellum, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of older adults. Older adults who were 55 to 75 years of age were randomized into three groups. The video game experimental group (VID; n = 8) engaged in a 3D-platform video game training over a period of 6 months. Additionally, an active control group took a series of self-directed, computerized music (piano) lessons (MUS; n = 12), while a no-contact control group did not engage in any intervention (CON; n = 13). After training, a within-subject increase in grey matter within the hippocampus was significant only in the VID training group, replicating results observed in younger adults. Active control MUS training did, however, lead to a within-subject increase in the DLPFC, while both the VID and MUS training produced growth in the cerebellum. In contrast, the CON group displayed significant grey matter loss in the hippocampus, cerebellum and the DLPFC.
In the present longitudinal study, we aimed to investigate video game training associated neuronal changes in reward processing using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We recruited 48 healthy young participants which were assigned to one of 2 groups: A group in which participants were instructed to play a commercial video game (“Super Mario 64 DS”) on a portable Nintendo DS handheld console at least 30minutes a day over a period of two months (video gaming group; VG) or to a matched passive control group (CG). Before and after the training phase, in both groups, fMRI imaging was conducted during passively viewing reward and punishment-related videos sequences recorded from the trained video game. The results show that video game training may lead to reward related decrease in neuronal activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and increase in the hippocampus. Additionally, the decrease in DLPFC activation was associated with gaming related parameters experienced during playing. Specifically, we found that in the VG, gaming related parameters like performance, experienced fun and frustration (assessed during the training period) were correlated to decrease in reward related DLPFC activity. Thus, neuronal changes in terms of video game training seem to be highly related to the appetitive character and reinforcement schedule of the game. Those neuronal changes may also be related to the often reported video game associated improvements in cognitive functions.