Brain Wave Patterns Predict A Person's Aptitude For Video Games
October 25, 2012

Brain Waves Predict A Person’s Aptitude For Video Games

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A person´s aptitude for video games can be predicted by their brain waves, according to a new study published in the journal Psychophysiology.

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to observe the electrical activity in the brains of 39 study participants before they trained on the video game 'Space Fortress,' a game developed for cognitive research.

None of the subjects were daily video game players.

The researchers found that the participants whose brain waves oscillated most powerfully in the alpha spectrum (about 10 times per second, or 10 hertz) when measured at the front of the head tended to learn at a faster pace than those whose brain waves oscillated with less power.

The EEG signal was a strong predictor of improvement on the game, said lead researcher Kyle Mathewson, a University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher and Beckman Fellow.

"By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," he said, adding that the EEG results predicted about half of the difference in learning speeds between study subjects.

The waves of electrical activity across the brain reflect the communication status of millions or billions of neurons, Mathewson said in a press release.

"These oscillations are the language of the brain, and different oscillations represent different brain functions.”

The researchers also found that learning to play the game improved subjects' reaction time and working memory, the ability to hold a piece of information in mind just until it is needed.

"We found that the people who had more alpha waves in response to certain aspects of the game ended up having the best improvement in reaction time and the best improvement in working memory," Mathewson said.

The study is a part of a larger collaborative effort to determine whether measures of brain activity or brain structure can predict a person´s ability to learn a new video game.

A previous analysis, led by Art Kramer, who also worked on the current study, found that the volume of specific structures in the brain could predict how well people would perform on 'Space Fortress.' That study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the relative sizes of different brain structures.

But MRI is costly, and requires that subjects lie immobile inside a giant magnet, Mathewson explained. With EEG, researchers can track brain activity fairly inexpensively while subjects are engaged in a task in a less constricted, less artificial environment.

The new findings offer exciting clues to the mental states that appear to enhance one's ability to perform complex tasks, Mathewson said.

Although Alpha waves are associated with relaxation, they are also believed to arise when a person is actively inhibiting certain cognitive functions in favor of others, he said.

It is possible that everyone could benefit from interventions to increase the strength of their alpha waves in the front of the brain, a region associated with decision-making, attention and self-control.

"You can get people to increase their alpha brain waves by giving them some positive feedback," Mathewson said. "And so you could possibly boost this kind of activity before putting them in the game."

The research paper, entitled "Different Slopes for Different Folks: Alpha and Delta EEG Power Predict Subsequent Video Game Learning Rate and Improvements in Cognitive Control Tasks," was published online October 23 in Psychophysiology.