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It's game over for the theory that video games help your brain

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From making people better multi-taskers to making them better drivers, recent studies have reassured parents that video games boost the brains of kids.

But if you've been glad to see your kids playing Gears of War because it's making them smarter, here's some bad news.

"Despite the hype, in reality, there is little solid evidence that games enhance cognition at all," according to Walter Boot, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida State University.

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He and his colleagues examined studies that supported the idea that gaming improves cognitive functions and found they suffer from a host of methodological flaws. For instance, many of the studies compared gamers to non-gamers and found the former group to be superior. But that doesn't necessarily mean that gamers acquired skills through gaming. It could just be that already having such skills makes them better video game players, Dr. Boot's study suggests.

As well, studies in which people who usually don't play video games are trained to often have weak control groups, according to the FSU study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

When Dr. Boot and his team conducted their own video game training study, they did not find any of the benefits claimed by previous studies.

"The idea that video games could enhance cognition was exciting because it represented one of the few cases in which cognitive training enhanced abilities that weren't directly practised. But we found no benefits of video game training." He added that no study has yet met the 'gold standard' in terms of credible methodology.

Which isn't to say that video games don't offer any brain benefits, just that more evidence is necessary.

But don't go firing up Super Mario because you think stomping on mushroom men is making you smarter.

"If people are playing games to improve their cognition, they may be wasting their time," Dr. Boot said. "Play games because you enjoy them, not because they could boost your brain power."

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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