Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Does Tetris Boost Brainpower?

Practicing the computer game appears to make some parts of the brain more efficient.

  • September 1, 2009

Practicing the computer game Tetris appears to boost growth in some parts of the adolescent brain and to enhance efficiency in others, according to a study published today in the journal BMC Research Notes. According to the researchers, the study is the first to assess both brain structure and efficiency using two types of brain imaging before and after practicing a cognitive task.

The brain areas that increased in thickness after practice are
shown in red; blue areas show more efficient brain function after
practice. The right hemisphere is shown on the right; left image
is the left hemisphere. Credit: Haier et al.

The study compared adolescent girls who practiced Tetris over a three-month period and those who did not. According to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the practice group increased thickness of the cortex in certain areas. Their brains also appeared to function more efficiently in some areas, meaning they used less brainpower to complete the same tasks.

It’s unlikely that this technique is unique to Tetris–it may be a pattern associated with a variety of practiced skills. “One of the most surprising findings of brain research in the last five years was that juggling practice increased gray matter in the motor areas of the brain,” said Rex Jung, a co-investigator on the Tetris study and a clinical neuropsychologist, in a press release from the Mind Research Network. “We did our Tetris study to see if mental practice increased cortical thickness, a sign of more gray matter. If it did, it could be an explanation for why previous studies have shown that mental practice increases brain efficiency. More gray matter in an area could mean that the area would not need to work as hard during Tetris play.”

According to the release:

The areas of the brain that showed relatively thicker cortex were the Brodmann Area (BA) 6 in the left frontal lobe and BA 22 and BA 38 in the left temporal lobe. Scientists believe BA 6 plays a role in the planning of complex, coordinated movements. BA 22 and BA 38 are believed to be the part of the brain active in multisensory integration–or our brain’s coordination of visual, tactile, auditory, and internal physiological information.

Functional MRI (fMRI) showed greater efficiency after practice mostly in the right frontal and parietal lobes including BAs 32, 6, 8, 9, 46 and BA 40. These areas are associated with critical thinking, reasoning, and language and processing.

This study was funded by Blue Planet Software the sole agent for the Tetris Co.

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