Researchers Use MRI to Predict Your Gaming Prowess

How can you tell if you’re a natural gaming pro? Researchers say they need look no further than your basal ganglia.

Psychology professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said Thursday that they can now predict with what they call “unprecedented accuracy” a person’s skills at videogames and other complex tasks by first studying certain areas of their brains. The study, “Predicting Individual’s Learning Success From Patterns of Pre-Learning MRI Activity,” will be published in online journal PLoS One.

“Our data suggest that some persistent physiological and or neuroanatomical difference is actually the predictor of learning,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and research leader Art Kramer in a statement.

The researchers first found subjects who had not previously spent much time playing videogames. Then, they imaged their brains with MRI scans before having them play a videogame called Space Fortress, developed by the university. 

This was the game used in last year’s study, by some of the same researchers, that first showed the correlation between brain size and game aptitude. 

At that time, the research showed that “nearly a quarter” of the difference in performance among players could be predicted by the size of brain parts like the nucleus accumbens and putamen. Today, with more-refined techniques, the scientists say that number is between 55 percent and 68 percent.

“We find variations among participants in the patterns of brain activity in their basal ganglia,” Dirk Bernhardt-Walther, an Ohio State University psychology professor who led the design of the experiment, said in a statement Thursday. “Powerful statistical algorithms allow us to connect these patterns to individual learning success.”

By Chris Kohler 


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