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‘@PLOSNeuro #SfN14 Preview: The Neuroscience of Gaming

ME08. The Neuroscience of Gaming. Social Issues Roundtable
Sunday, Nov 16, 2014, 1:00 PM — 3:00 PM. WCC 201
Featured speaker: Adam Gazzaley

PLOS Neuro Community’s coverage of the Society for Neuroscience’s 2014 annual meeting kicks into gear with previews of the sessions we are most excited about. I will start by telling you why I’m looking forward to the Roundtable on the Neuroscience of Gaming, and with a short interview of Adam Gazzaley, who is one of the speakers at that session. Keep watching this space for more!

For a full schedule of events taking place at PLOS SfN booth 137, including daily meetups with editors from PLOS ONE, PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology and “Credit for Data” workshops, check this page

And keep up with PLOS Neuro conference coverage on our SfN14 Live Blog.

Why I’m excited about The Neuroscience of Gaming

One of the sessions that I’m most looking forward to at the SfN’s 2014 annual meeting is the Roundtable on the Neuroscience of Gaming. Why? Well, I started playing video games since I was in primary school, and they have been part of my life ever since. The Roundtable will bring together four speakers with varied backgrounds and expertise:

  • Daniel Greenberg is the president of Media Rez, a software and game development studio based in Washington DC whose goal is to develop games that support behavior change in health and learning.
  • Adam Gazzaley directs a cognitive neuroscience lab at the University of California in San Francisco that focuses, among others, on developing custom-made video games to improve cognitive functions.
  • Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University, in the UK, specializes in behavioral addictions such as gambling and video gaming addictions.
  • Martha Farah, who heads a cognitive neuroscience lab the University of Pennsylvania, will focus on the ethical and social aspects of using neuroscience in games.
neuroscience imaging center at ucsf
The Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF

I’m particularly interested in hearing about Dr. Gazzaley’s work. I’ve been thinking for a while that video games, in addition to being a great form of entertainment (and a cultural artefact!), represent fantastic tools to probe the function of the brain. Think about it: you are being exposed to complex, multisensory stimuli (obviously visual and auditory, but also tactile through vibrating controllers for instance), to which you have to respond by specific motor commands in a precise temporal window. The whole thing is orders of magnitude more engrossing than a typical psychophysical experiment, yet the basic principles remain. If you are able to intervene in the design of the game to have the player perform a task in which you’re interested, retrieve from the system when game events are happening, and synchronize that with measurements of brain activity, you can use video games as a very powerful scientific tool.

Adam Gazzaley speaking at Exponential Medicine conference
Gazzaley discussing brain science and video games at Exponential Medicine conference Image: ExMed 360

Well, Dr. Gazzaley and his team are doing precisely that — and more, since (among others) they are also adding non-invasive brain stimulation to their armamentarium. If you would like to know more about Dr. Gazzaley’s previous and current work, look to his study on how training on a custom-designed video game improved cognitive abilities in older adults, which was published by Nature last year (it was also highlighted on the cover, and it’s a very good one, too). More recently, Dr. Gazzaley was interviewed in a New York Times Magazine article on the controversy surrounding the “brain training” industry. He is also among the signatories of a recent consensus paper on the same issue from the scientific community. We can expect to hear more about this fascinating subject during the Roundtable.

Five Questions to: Adam Gazzaley

Adm Gazzaley, MD, PhD
Adm Gazzaley, MD, PhD

What, in your view, is the one most exciting finding that neuroscience has produced?

Evidence describing the anatomy and physiology of neuroplasticity.

If you could use a magic wand to improve one aspect of how research is conducted, what would you do?

The convergence of different perspectives and methodologies on the same issue would be more common.

What aspect of your research work do you prefer?

Working as a team with a group of intelligent and inspired people.

Is your career similar to what you had in mind as an undergraduate?

Similar, but more involved with health that I ever imagined.

What advice would you give an undergraduate neuroscience major (or recent graduate) about how best to advance in the field?

Search what you love to do, and don’t be afraid to think different.

I would like to thank Dr. Gazzaley for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope that I have convinced you to attend the Social Issues Roundtable on the neuroscience of gaming — but in case you missed the live session, I’ll blog about it!

The views expressed in this post belong to the author and are not necessarily those of PLOS.

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