Three blobs in your brain show your gaming performance

Researchers can predict your performance on a video game simply by measuring the volume of three little blobs in your brain.

A study at the University of Illinois found that nearly a quarter of variability in scores could be predicted by measuring the volume of three structures in the striatum.

Brainiacs“This is the first time that we’ve been able to take a real world task like a video game and show that the size of specific brain regions is predictive of performance and learning rates on this video game,” said Kirk Erickson, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and first author on the study.

Research has shown that expert video gamers are better than novices on many basic measures of attention and perception – so you’d think that training people to play would improve those facilities. It doesn’t.

So it could be the case, figured the researchers, that the gamers had different brains in the first place.

They gave MRI scans to 39 men and women who’d spent less than three hours a week playing video games in the previous two years. The volume of each brain structure was compared to that of the brain as a whole.

Participants were then trained on one of two versions of Space Fortress, a video game the University of Illinois developed itself (Dead Space it ain’t). It turned out that the size of the players’ caudate nucleus, putamen and nucleus accumbens correlated strongly with their scores.
“The putamen and the caudate have been implicated in learning procedures, learning new skills, and those nuclei predicted learning throughout the 20-hour period,” said Arthur Kramer, a professor of psychology at the university.

The players in which those structures were largest “learned more quickly and learned more over the training period,” he said.