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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Video Games that Beef up the Brain

Good-for-you Gaming: iStockPhoto

In a recent study from UC Berkeley, scientists revealed significant physical differences in the brain development of children from different socio-economic backgrounds. EEG scans taken of childrens brains while performing a task drawing heavily upon the prefrontal cortex-- the area of the brain where logic and reasoning tasks are carried out-- showed that kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds show more developed cognitive activity in the prefrontal lobe, while kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to adults who have had a stroke.

The good news is that the poor kids haven’t suffered brain damage; they simply haven’t received the same mental stimulation as their wealthier peers. To combat poor brain development at an early age, neuroscientists are creating video games that specifically develop prefrontal cortex functions in school age kids.

I have to admit, I’m curious what kind of games will result from this effort. My generation had The (original) Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego. Are these games no good? Admittedly, we spent most of our time naming our pioneer families after people we didn’t like and trying to kill them off with cholera or trying to shoot 5,000 pounds of meat when we could only bring 500 pounds back with us, but we learned something. Right? While companies like LeapFrog have long been in the good-for-you gaming market, these new games are novel in that they target a specific region of the brain, and they are being developed with the goal of closing the cognitive development, and socioeconomic, gaps.