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Nintendo Science

Tetris Improves Your Brain 145

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the sing-the-music-honey dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Playing Tetris increases the density of the cortex and improves the efficiency of some parts of the brain, according to researchers investigating video games and other complex spatial tasks." Unfortunately, storing a half million copies of the song negates any practical functional gains beyond loading your trunk very efficiently.
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Tetris Improves Your Brain

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:54AM (#29273191) Journal

    Playing Tetris actually gives you more brain to work with, says a new study to be published later this week.

    So you're saying you had control groups of people that played other video games and Tetris showed a difference? Or a control group studying chess? I suspect the title of this article should be "Puzzles Improve Your Brain."

    This, says the doctors who undertook the study, shows that focusing on a "challenging visuospatial task" like a videogame can actually alter the structure of the brain, not just increase brain activity.

    So you're saying this is akin to jamming the square block in the square hole and the triangle block in the triangle hole? Or, really, any sort of two dimensional puzzles like the mazes on the back of tray mats at a restaurant? Or maybe even -- *gasp* -- any game portrayed on a 2D surface like a TV or computer screen?

    The study, funded by Tetris' makers ...

    I understand now.

    The study's subjects, a group of adolescent girls, underwent MRI scans before and after a three-month Tetris practice period.

    The pretty pictures wouldn't happen to be statistically erroneous [slashdot.org] now would they?

    Don't get me wrong, I grew up on Tetris 2 and The New Tetris. They both still have massive replay value and really spurred me to look into polyomino [amazon.com] based puzzles [amazon.com] which had increased fame in the mid 1960s until everyone realized that they had little real world application (but they still show up in papers [acm.org]). Still, it lead me to a book by Martin Gardner [wikipedia.org] who wrote Scientific American columns on Mathematical Games. If you remember those, I recommend this book [amazon.com]. So something good came out of studying tile theory and Tetris for me but there's no evidence yet it did anything more for me than say playing Gauntlet on the NES would have.

    • by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:59AM (#29273231) Homepage

      Indeed. This Science Experiment brought to you by Nintendo.

      • by Jurily (900488)

        This Science Experiment brought to you by Nintendo.

        Super Mario Rocket Science!

      • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @01:48PM (#29275885) Homepage

        I don't know whether it applies broadly or just to this particular game, but I can state that Tetris had a profound impact on my wife's quality of life. She was born with brain damage from a lack of oxygen due to pregnancy complications. This left her epileptic and with extremely poor muscle control/coordination. She used to get made fun of in school because kids thought she was mentally retarded because she moved slowly and awkwardly (just the opposite, really -- she was the first woman to ever get a scholarship to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology). As a child, however, at the recommendation of her doctor, her parents encouraged her to play Tetris and other hand-eye-coordination / reaction time games a lot, something she continued all the way through college. The parts of her brain that affect motor control are still damaged, but EEGs now show that other parts of her brain have taken up the slack. You'd never know she used to have trouble with motor control.

        • by quadrox (1174915)

          While this is an interesting/intriguing anecdote, it (for obvious reasons) doesn't mention how she would have fared without playing tetris.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Dogtanian (588974)

          As a child, however, at the recommendation of her doctor, her parents encouraged her to play Tetris and other hand-eye-coordination / reaction time games a lot, [..] EEGs now show that other parts of her brain have taken up the slack. You'd never know she used to have trouble with motor control.

          If you observe closely, there may be occasional giveaway signals [youtube.com] to the way your wife's brain approaches hand/eye coordination...

      • Pente [wikipedia.org], the manly cortical game.

    • T-spin triple (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:14AM (#29273353) Homepage Journal

      So you're saying this is akin to jamming the square block in the square hole and the triangle block in the triangle hole?

      No, it's shoving the T-shaped block past other blocks into a T-shaped hole. Almost every Tetris game since Tetris Worlds (2001), including Tetris DS, has allowed for this strange move [ytmnd.com].

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by cetialphav (246516)

      So you're saying you had control groups of people that played other video games and Tetris showed a difference? Or a control group studying chess? I suspect the title of this article should be "Puzzles Improve Your Brain."

      There was no control group in this experiment. They did a before and after with a group of people.

      I don't understand why you think the title should be generalized to Puzzles instead of Tetris. The experiment only looked at the impact of Tetris on the brain and not puzzles in general. It is natural to hypothesize that other types of games will have a similar impact, but until that is tested and confirmed across a spectrum of puzzles, you can't safely generalize that.

      No one is claiming that playing Tetris

      • There was no control group in this experiment. They did a before and after with a group of people.

        Well, if this is true ... and I can't find the paper yet so I don't know. Then you're going to have the hilarious possibility that they were merely observing natural growth of the cortex over time. I hope they understand that with no control group they are setting themselves up for scientific disaster.

        I mean, how are they going to eliminate alternative explanations [wikipedia.org]? This is standard scientific procedure--I'd be shocked to hear this being published without adhering to something I learned about in fou

        • There have been similar studies with mice. They drop a mouse in a tub of water, the mouse swims around and then it finds the "island" so it doesn't drown. After a couple times of this the mouse immediately goes to the island.

          Enter Mr. Surgeon to remove part of the mouse's brain. Now the mouse swims in circles until it drowns (or the researcher rescues it). Put the brain-damaged mouse in the mouse-equivalent of Disneyland - lots of wheels and slides and blocks and other stimulative things for about a m

          • by mea37 (1201159)

            ...which interesting as it may be, fails to address the issue.

            Yes, there can be any number of reasons to hypothesize that Tetris is linked to brain growth. Various similar-but-different experiments using different stimuli and a different species of animal can make it appear that this might well be the case.

            And then, to find out, you run a controlled experiment. No control group = no valid conclusion.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bob-taro (996889)

          Then you're going to have the hilarious possibility that they were merely observing natural growth of the cortex over time.

          And, as has been observed, the test subjects were a group of "adolescent girls", so that is quite likely what happened. But forget about all that. The important thing to remember is that Tetris does cause brain growth. Studies have shown it. All you Tetris-brain-growth-deniers may now be labeled as extremists with an agenda who stupidly ignore the findings of the scientific community. How can you be so so stupid? You need to play more Tetris.

        • by cetialphav (246516) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:12PM (#29276253)

          Then you're going to have the hilarious possibility that they were merely observing natural growth of the cortex over time.

          I just found the paper online here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1756-0500-2-174.pdf [biomedcentral.com] . The article did not mention a control group (how I hate stupid science reporting), but there was one. This is almost certainly not normally occurring growth that was observed.

      • by nitroamos (261075)

        It is natural to hypothesize that other types of games will have a similar impact, but until that is tested and confirmed across a spectrum of puzzles, you can't safely generalize that.

        No, I'd hypothesize pretty much the same as what the article stated, that there's something more or less special about Tetris... It's a puzzle, so it has a thinking component, but it's also real time so you're rewarded for solving that puzzle over and over as fast as possible. I know my mind works in two modes: one when I'm solving problems alone, another when I'm in a testing situation (e.g. school, interviews, etc), so there is a difference when you're trying to do things as quickly as possible.

        • I would find it very surprising if Tetris could improve the brain, but speed chess, sudoku, crossword puzzles, etc could not. They may make improvements on somewhat different areas of the brain, but I would expect they would all provide some benefits. Tetris rewards speedy hand-eye coordination to move the blocks quickly, but does not engage the verbal parts of the brain like a crossword puzzle does.

          I think the old adage "use it or lose it" applies just as well to the brain as to our muscles. There is al

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MobyDisk (75490)

      Playing Tetris actually gives you more brain to work with, says a new study to be published later this week.

      So you're saying you had control groups of people that played other video games and Tetris showed a difference? Or a control group studying chess? I suspect the title of this article should be "Puzzles Improve Your Brain."

      You have that backwards. The article is correct. Since they only tested Tetris, the only claim they can make is about Tetris.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by somersault (912633)

        They can't really make any claims about anything unless they have a good control group. It's like saying that my brain is growing better because I like peanut butter. Or perhaps because I enjoy walking. Or because I like to crack my knuckles. There are millions of variables. They could at the very least try to isolate one of them before claiming any causation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by alexj33 (968322)
      Apparently the key phrase here is "some parts of the brain."

      Those parts didn't include the ones that were supposed to keep my roommate from failing out of college while he was playing Tetris.
    • Your local library probably has the Scientific American publication, "Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games: The Entire Collection of His Scientific American Columns". The version I borrowed runs pdf files with adobe reader 6 on the disk.

    • I could imagine that it would also depend on the type of game or puzzle played.

      As you say, Tetris is good for tile theory (Funnily enough, I have skills at packing freight or for my holidays that are simply...uncanny), but I don't know that a steady diet of Gauntlet would have been much help there.

      Yes, I played a lot of Tetris, why do you ask?
    • by Ardeaem (625311) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @12:42PM (#29275091)

      The pretty pictures wouldn't happen to be statistically erroneous [slashdot.org] now would they?

      You do realize that not all fMRI research uses the methodology in the paper referred to by the slashdot article you linked to, right? Not even most of it, actually. The article you referred to only discusses the case where the regions of interest for correlations between behavioral and fMRI measures are selected by the size of the correlation itself. Much of that bad stuff happens in the field of social neuroscience. Although I haven't read the paper in question because it evidently won't be out until Thursday, there's no reason to believe based on the blurb that they had any reason to use that (horribly flawed) methodology.

    • Speaking of Tetris-like games, once I found Panel de Pon [wikipedia.org] (also known as Tetris Attack, Pokemon Puzzle League, etc.), I could never go back to Tetris (YouTube videos [youtube.com]). Instead of dropping pieces and having no way to undo a drop, you swap pairs of horizontally-adjacend colored panels using a cursor you can move around the screen. When three or more panels of like color form a horizontal or vertical line, they flash and then disappear. Any panels above the ones that disappeared will then fall. If this causes a
  • srsly?! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:56AM (#29273207)
    You mean if i keep playing a game i will get better at it?! This is madness...
  • Blockout! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RenHoek (101570) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:58AM (#29273225) Homepage

    Anybody remember Blockout [wikipedia.org]? That was a lot more challenging with it being in 3D. :) Aww the days of yore..

  • by WeirdingWay (1555849) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @09:58AM (#29273227)
    Playing video games in general does this. All genres involve some form of problem solving...something television doesn't usually accommodate.
    • There's been quite a bit of previous research done on Tetris, which has found that just about the only thing playing tetris improves is your ability to play tetris. The spatial expertise acquired while playing tetris is highly domain specific (eg. see VK Sims, RE Mayer (2002) [wiley.com]). In fact Tetris has so few measurable changes on behavior that it's often used as the control game for action video game research (eg. Green CS, Bavelier D. (2003) [nature.com]).

      • There's been quite a bit of previous research done on Tetris, which has found that just about the only thing playing tetris improves is your ability to play tetris. The spatial expertise acquired while playing tetris is highly domain specific

        Bagging groceries is like real-life tetris :-)

  • Oh boy! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RealRav (607677)
    As interesting as this is I dread the assumptions that some will make of this. If Tetris can alter the brain then many will argue that violent video games also alter the brain, spurring their side of the debate. I would think that playing FPS games would alter the brain in a way that would make someone better at tasks that require quick reaction to visual stimuli.
    • by TheKidWho (705796)

      I would wager that the decrease in violent crime that have occurred this century are related to the rise of violent life like video games.

      • I would wager that the decrease in violent crime that have occurred this century are related to the rise of violent life like video games.

        Sounds logical. If I'm sitting on my arse, playing video games, I'm not out looking for trouble. And unfortunately, probably getting more sedentary and less able to commit acts of physical violence as well.

      • by Ironica (124657)

        I would wager that the decrease in violent crime that have occurred this century are related to the rise of violent life like video games.

        Related? Well, probably so. *Causatively* related? Probably not.

        As society has developed, improvements in technology (which have made video games possible) have increased the standard of living while at the same time requiring greater specialization and division of labor. The levels of education and... well, *concentration* necessary to invent and effectively use such technologies can only occur in an environment where people feel reasonably safe. If any trip down the highway runs the risk of being att

    • They do.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by wanax (46819) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @12:30PM (#29274911)

      Playing lots of FPS or "action video games" do have significant, measurable effects on cognition including speeding reaction time, decreasing attentional blink, improving multi-element tracking, improving spatial resolution for both vision and attention, etc etc.. A lot of interesting research on the subject is being done at the Bavelier Lab [rochester.edu]. Review papers can be found here [rochester.edu] and here [rochester.edu] [PDF warning].

  • The Song (Score:5, Funny)

    by flynt (248848) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:00AM (#29273239)

    Da Da-Da-Da Da Da Da, Da Da, Da Da, Da Da Da, Dah-Dah-Dah,
    Duh,Duh,Duh, Da-Da-Da, Dah Dah, Dum Doo, Dee Dee, Dah Do De Doo.
    Dahhh Dahh, Dahhhh Dahhh, Dahhh Dahhh, Dahhhhhh
    Dahhh Dahh, Dooooo Dahhhh, Dum Do Deeee Dahhhhhhh,
    Repeat!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...in masonry.

  • I is real clever!!! (Score:3, Informative)

    by jambox (1015589) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:02AM (#29273261)
    Me plays tetris like all the time for real. Love playing tetris soooo much! really, really smart me am.
    • Me plays tetris like all the time for real. Love playing tetris soooo much! really, really smart me am.

      Tetris is clearly not working, because you think that sentence is witty :P

  • I don't know about you, but I don't want to play a game if it makes my brain more dense. Please, I want to remain smart, that's why I hang out here!

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Please, I want to remain smart, that's why I hang out here!

      I think I see the problem.

    • Being "dense" traditionally refers to the bone in your skull being thicker, which precludes the brain taking up that space, resulting in you having a smaller brain and therefore, so the theory goes, less intelligence.
  • Does Pacman help me improve my eating skills?
  • Changes in synaptic connectivity are one way that learning occurs [wikipedia.org]. It is interesting to see that even minor stimulation (in playing a game like tetris) can lead to observable changes, i.e., the hardware of the mind (aka the brain) can be re-modelled by the software being run (the 'program' or specific task being undertaken). One of the next questions is to begin to understand the rules governing how learning is represented. This will allow us to begin debugging the OS kernel that links brain and mind.
  • by kylben (1008989) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:32AM (#29273527) Homepage
    ... me pack the car for vacation.
  • by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:32AM (#29273529)
    This is simply how the brain works. You perform a task repeatedly and the neurons that are firing become more efficient and form a stronger connection, project more axons and dendrites, and generally do what they're supposed to.

    Basically they did an MRI scan of girls before the study, then scanned them again after they had played Tetris for three months and their brain showed increased density rostral to the central sulcus, which is the region responsible for complex movements of the fingers and hands (based on the rough rendering at the top of TFA). ... Great. More money being spend on useless research. We all already know the brain adapts and improves itself. How about a study on drugs to increase that improvement, say while I'm study for my Neuroanatomy gross lab.

    Where do I go to get funding to do stupid stuff like this? I have an MR machine, I have 3-months to kick back and travel the world giving 10 minute seminars while my research subjects regulate themselves. Please, someone tell me what I must do.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MrMista_B (891430)

      Well, in order to get instant success like that, there's only one thing to do:

      Stop being ethical.

    • by Ironica (124657)

      Where do I go to get funding to do stupid stuff like this?

      Grants.gov [grants.gov].

      I have an MR machine, I have 3-months to kick back and travel the world giving 10 minute seminars while my research subjects regulate themselves. Please, someone tell me what I must do.

      Usually a PHS 398 Research Plan. Careful, it can't be more than 25 pages for Items 2-5.

  • This is great. I usually play Tetris as I listen to streaming radio from the Internet. I can't just sit and listen. I have to occupy my mind and fingers with something to be able to focus. If I gain brain capacity in the process, all the better! By the way, I can score 250 lines in type A, and I can beat type B on level 9 high 5 with no window on the first try!
  • Where was this article when I was playing Tetris in the library during my free periods in high school and getting crap for it?
  • On the DS i played tetris waaay to much. I would find myself in the office, talking about office-stuff and just thinking 'If this dude, that is sitting on this chair, takes his screen on his lap and sits parralel to this closet, he would make like 3 lines'. That is when I stoped playing. Scary. But real.
  • by doti (966971) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:43AM (#29273597) Homepage

    Next:

    "Exercising Improves Your Body"

    News at 11.

  • There was a version of Tetris included with the Best of Windows Entertainment Pack (BOWEP). I've spent so many hours on that game it's not even funny... it went up to level 10 (the levels advanced according to how many lines you cleared... level 10 began after 93 lines), although you could start at any level (higher levels give more points).

    It's kinda strict, though... it doesn't allow T-spins (where a T piece is rotated into a position that would be impossible for it to reach otherwise) or easy spin (which

  • Playing tetris causes your brain to pack its neurons together more tightly!
  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer.hotmail@com> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @10:57AM (#29273723)

    The study, funded by Tetris' makers and authored by investigators at the Mind Research Network in New Mexico...

    Most people are familar with the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), and most in business are familiar with the other golden rule (He who has the gold makes the rules). I would just be cautious about any study that is funded by a game producer that concludes that games are good for you.

    I don't doubt that such a positive correllation is possible. I just am leary of any study that finds in favor of the payor. It's like those periodic news stories you see where it is touted that businesses are moving back toward formal attire, that "the suit is back", or similar sentiments. The most common sources for those news items (if they are even worthy of being called "news") are PR firms associated with menswear retailers like The Men's Warehouse. All the statistics in the press releases seem well researched and are accepted as valid, but the conclusions are being made while the menswear retailer(s) hold(s) the purse strings.

    The only reassuring thing about this particular study is the research entity, the Mind Research Network. They appear to be a legitimate non-profit corporation whose mission centers around understanding mental illness and cognitive processes. I couldn't find any serious criticisms of their other work. It will be interesting to see how this study fares as it is reviewed by peers and colleagues.

    • by Ironica (124657)

      Most people are familar with the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), and most in business are familiar with the other golden rule (He who has the gold makes the rules). I would just be cautious about any study that is funded by a game producer that concludes that games are good for you.

      I don't doubt that such a positive correllation is possible. I just am leary of any study that finds in favor of the payor.

      One of these days, the deep pockets that fund this type of research will wise up, and start a tit-for-tat scheme... The Dairy Council will fund a $500,000 project that shows playing video games makes you a genius, and Nintendo will fund a $500,000 study that finds milk makes you superhuman.

  • Turbo Button Hack (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr. Hok (702268) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @11:11AM (#29273823)
    I used to play the original tetris on a 386. It was incredibly relaxing: When you activated the turbo button [wikipedia.org] while tetris started, it calibrated its delay loop for sizzling 40 MHz. Then push it again to clock it down to 4.77 MHz and enjoy. You could spend a whole day playing it and achieve miracle high scores, all the while doing things, like spending a couple of minutes in the bathroom, making coffee in the kitchen, doing homework etc.
    How I miss the turbo button...
    • by tepples (727027)

      How I miss the turbo button...

      You can have it back with DOSBox, along with Tetris 3.12 [oversigma.com].

    • by Ironica (124657)

      I used to play the original tetris on a 386.

      Really? I didn't know there were arcade emulators for the 386. Myself, I used to play the original Tetris in the campus game room.

      • by Dr. Hok (702268)

        I used to play the original tetris on a 386.

        Really? I didn't know there were arcade emulators for the 386. Myself, I used to play the original Tetris in the campus game room.

        Huh? It seems that the DOS version is the original [oversigma.com], if you don't count the Elektronika 60 prototype.

  • by Chysn (898420) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @11:13AM (#29273833)
    ...you improve Tetris's brain.
  • However, researchers found no correlation between reading slashdot and increased brain activity. At least, not in girls.
  • This actually had already been shown in studies of nuns with incredibly long life spans with few signs of dementia even at the ages of 97 plus. Complex interaction and puzzle solving increase the brain's ability to form connections and stay that way way past the point that it should have started deteriorating. The nuns apparently did all kinds of brain teasers and puzzles including spatial puzzles and this was part of their secret to extremely long mentally stable lives. Another link to Martin Gardner he
  • Unfortunately, storing a half million copies of the song negates any practical functional gains beyond loading your trunk very efficiently.

    What is this? Some kind of joke? Or... something?

    Is it like, burning a half-million copies of the Tetris song to CD fills up your car trunk?

    WTF is going on with this sentence? I can't make heads or tails of it.

  • If I play too much Tetris, it causes in my head what is called the "Tetris Effect" where everything I see that even resembles a grid of squares, I start trying to piece together in my mind as Tetris pieces. Probably a step backwards as far as my general thought processes are concerned.

    And don't even get me started on the psychological issues that surface when I see bathroom floor tiles after a round of Tetris.
  • I wonder if this has anything to do with the extensive boot times every morning.

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