by Archie Carfrae

At my university, whilst completing a psychology degree, a very small portion of my final mark is determined by my participation in the

university’s research. Psychology students are required to complete a certain number of hours of research participation. Most participants are first and second year students, whilst the third-year students conduct the research as part of their dissertations. This means there’s a conveyer belt of willing students who will participate in research knowing that they will get the same treatment when they need guinea pigs for their projects. This is the sole reason why psychological research is always based on students.

Most of these projects are incredibly boring and repetitive, but there has been a steady increase in the number of interactive and enjoyable research projects in recent years. This is due to the rise in the use of video games in research. Ever since I was young I have played video games. So being able to do this at university makes the participation a bit better and from the look of it, it has been beneficial for researchers as well. Although the use of video games in research is not necessarily new, it has definitely grown as the technology has advanced, meaning the field has become very broad.

Gaming in research

There has been a lot of research into how gaming effects people, for example. Research has often shown the numerous positive outcomes video games can provide, such as improved multitasking (Chiappe et al, 2013), increased brain matter in areas associated with planning and motor skills (Kuhn et al, 2014), and increased/better attention, cognitive control, visuospatial skills, cognitive workload and reward processing (Palaus et al, 2017). It has been reported that there is a link between gaming and gambling (McBride & Derevensky, 2016) and aggression (APA, 2015); although researchers claim that there is no evidence this translates to actual violence or criminality. Interestingly, research rarely finds many negative consequences. Research has even shown a negative association between gaming and poor physical health, obesity, marijuana use, whilst being positively associated with years spent in education (Liu , 2015). These are mostly correlational data, so it needs to be said that the results should be interpreted with caution.

Beyond this, gaming has also been researched with the aim of developing new techniques to help those with mental health issues. There has been use of virtual reality to reduce PTSD symptoms. This is done through a very realistic version of exposure therapy, a common therapy used for phobias. It works in the same way, there is an exposure to the fear (Afghanistan for a war veteran is a real example) either gradually or all at once, and the idea is that the anxiety will reduce or be eliminated. Obviously, there is the issue of reliving trauma here, but it is an interesting avenue. One piece of research showed a decrease in symptoms of up to 67% after six months (Rothbaum, 2001). The use of VR has also been used to treat psychosis on a variety of dimensions, (see psychiatrytoday article). Similarly (as mentioned in a previous blog), researched published in Translational Psychiatry showed how a video game has the potential to help people who hallucinate (including those with schizophrenia) to reduce their hallucinations by controlling the neural activity in specific parts of their brain (Orlov et al, 2018). This is new research, but it is potentially a breakthrough and would surely make games a focal point of similar research in the future.

Although I can’t confirm this with any actual published articles, I personally have experienced multiple psychological experiments which use video games whilst at university. Morality, judgment, decision making, and various aspects of working memory are just a few examples of the types of studies which have used video games at my university alone.

Its fascinating that something which is seemingly so trivial is becoming such a focal point of research and potentially even treatment of issues and with the technology still advancing it’s going to continue.

Rothbaum, B. O., Hodges, L. F., Ready, D., Graap, K., & Alarcon, R. D. (2001). Virtual reality exposure therapy for Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 62(8), 617-622.

Liu, C. (2015). Long term effects of video and computer game heavy use on health, mental health and education outcomes among adolescents in the u.s. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A76,

McBride, J., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Gambling and Video Game Playing Among Youth. Journal Of Gambling Issues, (34), 156-178. doi:10.4309/jgi.2016.34.9

Chiappe, D., Conger, M., Liao, J., Caldwell, J. L., & Vu, K. L. (2013). Improving multi-tasking ability through action videogames. Applied Ergonomics44(2), 278-284. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2012.08.002

Kühn, S., Lorenz, R., Banaschewski, T., Barker, G. J., Büchel, C., Conrod, P. J., … & Mann, K. (2014). Positive association of video game playing with left frontal cortical thickness in adolescents. PloS one, 9(3), e91506.

Palaus, M., Marron, E. M., Viejo-Sobera, R., & Redolar-Ripoll, D. (2017). Neural basis of video gaming: A systematic review. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 11, 248.