Brains on Video Games

Wie Videospielen das Gehirn veraendern kann | How video gaming can affect brain

Previous Project at MPIB

Video gaming has become more and more pervasive across the lifespan as well as across cultures. Nowadays, people worldwide spend a collective three billion hours per week playing video games (Zimbardo & Duncan, 2012). This intense exposure is bound to have effects on structure and function of the brain, and this is what we set out to explore.

In a study on male adults we found a positive association between hours spent with video games over the entire lifetime and grey matter volume in bilateral entorhinal cortex, a brain region that plays a role in orienting in our environment (Kühn & Gallinat, 2014).

However, caution is called for in the interpretation of cross-sectional results. The observed volumetric effects could likewise be a precondition rather than consequence of video gaming.

To investigate the causal relationship we conducted a training study in which adults played Super Mario 64 for 8 weeks, 30 minutes a day. We were able to show that grey matter volume in the right hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as the cerebellum increased in the experimental group compared to the control group that was not trained (Kühn, Gleich, Lorenz, Lindenberger, & Gallinat, 2014).

Neuronal Plasticity

Gehirnaktivitaet | Brain activity | Projekt im Forschungsbereich Entwicklungspsy
© MPI fuer Bildungsforschung

However, it is worth noting that the term "video games" is far from a single construct; there are millions of individual games and hundreds of distinct genres. Simply put, if one wants to know what the effects of video games are, the devil may hide in the detail. Therefore, we need to explore the effects of different gaming genres and to investigate the mechanisms that powerfully motivate people across all ages to play video games.


Simone Kühn, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (since 2016)

Oisin Butler (predoctoral fellow until 2018)

Collaboration Partners

Jürgen Gallinat, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf
Robert Lorenz, Charité
Tobias Gleich, Charité

Selected Publications

Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Gallinat, J., & Kühn, S. (2017). Functional changes in the reward circuit in response to gaming-related cues after training with a commercial video game. NeuroImage, 152, 467–475. doi: 10.1016/ j.neuroimage.2017.03.032

Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Pöhland, L., Raufelder, D., Deserno, L., ... Kühn, S., Gallinat, J. (2015). Frontal glutamate and reward processing in adolescence and adulthood. Brain Structure and Function, 220, 3087–3099. doi: 10.1007/s00429-014-0844-3

Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Amount of lifetime video gaming is positively associated with entorhinal, hippocampal and occipital volume. Molecular Psychiatry, 19, 842–847. doi: 10.1038/ mp.2013.100

Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2015). Brains online: Structural and functional correlates of habitual Internet use. Addiction Biology, 20, 415–422. doi: 10.1111/adb. 12128

Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: Gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular Psychiatry, 19, 265–271. doi: 10.1038/ mp.2013.120

Lorenz, R. C., Gleich, T., Gallinat, J., & Kühn, S. (2015). Video game training and the reward system. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9: 40. doi: 10.3389/fnhum. 2015.00040