Scientists harness the power of games to heal the brain

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are looking at ways video game technology can be used to improve or heal the brain, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Dr. Adam Gazzaley's neuroscience lab at UCSF is currently looking into the effectiveness of using video games to target damaged or under-used parts of the brain. Patients wear an electroencephalogram — a cap with electrodes that monitors the electrical impulses inside the brain down to the cubic millimeter — which allows Gazzaley and his team to target areas of the brain that need help. Knowing where these areas are, the idea is the mechanics of a game will adjust on the fly to keep those areas engaged, and hopefully strengthen them.

Research has already shown that certain kinds of games can improve brain function in areas of cognitive abilities and learning skills. The Scientific American Mind last year reported that the playing of first-person shooters was found to improve hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, spatial focus, visual acuity and decision-making. Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch also found that certain games and simulators had a positive impact on the performance of surgeons.

While Gazzaley's idea focuses on treatment rather than overall improvement of the brain, he said the plan is to make the tools available to people to use at home.

"The minute we show some in-lab validation, we'll move it into people's homes," he said.

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