Want a better brain? Try a video game, U of S research says

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have discovered that video games are not just for fun. Playing the games can also improve brain function and help emotional development, they say.

Exciting video games can increase brain power, according to University of Saskatchewan's Regan Mandryk

University of Saskatchewan research says stereotypes associated with video gamers are not always accurate. (CBC)

A researcher at the University of Saskatchewan is gathering evidence that dispels many of the negative stereotypes associated with people who enjoy video gaming.

"There are a lot of advantages to playing video games," Regan Mandryk, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Saskatchewan, said Thursday. 

The University of Saskatchewan's Regan Mandryk is researching video gaming. (Submitted to CBC)
Gamers are often viewed as being socially isolated, sedentary and unmotivated in life, she said, but her research has found quite the opposite.

"There's a lot of cognitive benefits you can get from playing video games," Mandryk said, noting research that suggests playing action games improves a person's ability to focus in other areas of life.

She cited an example where children who were having a hard time learning to read showed improvement after playing shooter-style action video games.

Mandryk said that the style of game does not have to be linked directly to learning in order to provide cognitive benefits. In some cases, she said, such brain-training games don't achieve the desired results.

"They're not really a lot of fun to play and they've actually been shown to not really improve your abilities. They don't really make you smarter," she said.

"Off-the-shelf commercial, fast-paced, exciting games are showing some of these cognitive benefits."

Mandryk also addressed the notion that gamers are loners. That's a misconception, she said.

"Video games are actually a way for people who don't live in the same area to connect with each and to feel like they're spending time together," she said.

She said that video games, in general, can help children develop worthwhile social skills — especially how to cope with their emotions.

"Video games can be a way for kids to learn to deal with failure," she explained. "To learn to deal with frustration, to learn to win graciously and to lose gracefully."

Mandryk is part of a group at the university that is examining interactions with video games in a number of areas, including health and fitness.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning