Does Brain Size Determine Video Game Skill?


No matter how many hours you spend playing Halo, Call of Duty or Kid Icarus, it might not be enough to make you a world class gamer. Researchers have found that people with larger nucleus accumbens outperform others when it comes to video games.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Pittsburgh, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology recruited 39 people who played video games fewer than three hours a week. The scientists then asked the group of 10 men and 29 women to play two specially created video games—one game required participants to focus on one goal, while the other asked players to grapple with shifting priorities.

According to the paper, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, the researchers then looked at MRI images of each person's brain. Those with larger nucleus accumbens, which is the brain's reward center, outplayed others within the first few hours. The researchers speculate that these players excelled because the "sense of achievement and emotional reward" fueled these subjects who yearn for reward.

However, subjects with larger caudate and putamen—located deep within the brain— excelled at the game with shifting priorities. Previous studies have shown that these areas help people learn new skills and adapt. And while this might help explain why someone is inept at video games, the researchers say these results will help them understand learning. Don't despair if you're a subpar gamer—the researchers note that the brain is elastic and certain parts have been shown to grow.