Latest Brain Science Findings
Originally reported on the Brainpower News Blog (no longer
online), here is some of the latest brain research, covering
the effects of video games on the brain and early-life infections.
Video Games Good for Brain?
Are video games good for your brain? The answer is not an
easy one, and the question is perhaps too general in any case.
It seems likely that whether a game is good for your brain depends
on the type of game, and it is also likely that their are beneficial
aspects as well as detrimental ones in many cases. A recent article on Science Daily had this to
Over the past decade, many studies and news media reports
have suggested that action video games such as Medal of Honor
or Unreal Tournament improve a variety of perceptual and cognitive
abilities. But in a paper published this week in the journal
Frontiers in Psychology, Walter Boot, an assistant professor
in Florida State University's Department of Psychology, critically
reevaluates those claims.
Together with FSU psychology doctoral student Daniel Blakely
and University of Illinois collaborator Daniel Simons, Boot lays
out what he believes is a persuasive argument that much of the
work done over the past decade demonstrating the benefits of
video game play is fundamentally flawed.
"Despite the hype, in reality, there is little solid
evidence that games enhance cognition at all," he said.
Yes, the studies showed that gamers had better perceptual
and cognitive abilities than those who did not play. The problem
is that this simply shows correlation, and not causation. It
could be that those with better cognitive abilities were drawn
to video games, and so it was not the game that causes their
Eventually there will be other, better, studies that give
us a bit more insight into whether this or that video game is
good for something in terms of brainpower. I suspect that it
will also be discovered--if the research is done--that moderation
is important. Almost everything that is "good" for
us, after all, is also "bad" for us if we have too
much of it. So even if video games are good for the brain, endless
hours playing them is probably not a good idea.
Early Infections Reduce Brainpower
Parents may want to pay attention to the latest research on
immune system response and brain function. Staci Bilbo, an assistant
professor in psychology & neuroscience at Duke University,
has found that when rats have an infection at an early age they
later have an aggressive immune response to subsequent infections.
This, it turns out, harms learning and memory. As reported on
In a study published in the Oct. 26 Journal of Neuroscience,
Bilbo's team identifies the source of the learning difficulties
and traces it back to the immune system itself.
The researchers found that specialized immune system cells
in the brain called microglia release a signaling molecule called
Interleukin-1, or IL-1, in response to an infection. IL-1 is
also crucial to normal learning and memory in the hippocampus
region of the brain. But too much IL-1 can impair learning and
memory in laboratory animals.
"These same molecules go up in response to any brain
infection. I don't really understand why you would build a brain
that way, except that there are clearly benefits in other aspects
of immunity, outside the brain," Bilbo said.
Rats were infected early in life and later in life given an
"infection" of dead bacteria. Their immune systems
reacted strongly and this in turn affected learning and memory.
It didn't matter whether the second infection was directly affecting
the brain or not.
"These rats handle peripheral infection really well,
but at a cost to the brain," Bilbo said.