An elegant new study has revealed that video game enthusiasts have an enlarged (left) dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]. This is the region of the brain which is believed to organise and plan mental activity, the central executive. It appears that we can choose to expand our central executive by practice, much in the same way that a muscle responds to repetitive exercise.
But is there really anything new? The brain is plastic at multiple levels. Synapses and circuits are moulded by the environmental information which they process. For instance the part of the brain which processes music is known to enlarge in people who develop musical expertise. Cortical thickness is not predestined. Instead, the cortex is a dynamic structure upon which an impoverished (or enriched) environment will impact. The brain/mind assembles it’s world and is assembled by the world – essentially a Hegelian insight.
The findings from this new study should caution those repeated efforts to reveal something about psychiatric patients on the basis of the size/thickness of their prefrontal cortices. There are many variables, aside from psychiatric diagnostic status [itself an art rather than a science], which determine the size/thickness of the cortex. The irony of course is that such a trivial, mindless pastime as playing video games can enlarge the physical correlate of what is usually regarded as a higher mental faculty.
The full paper can be read here.