Neurology Now:
Department: THE Waiting Room

Brain Game

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Five years ago, a leading Japanese neuroscientist created controversy with his research asserting that videogames impede brain development in kids. How ironic, then, that a videogame targeting their parents and grandparents is now transforming this obscure professor into an international celebrity.

Not only did Ryuta Kawashima, M.D., help develop the hot new videogame based on his brain imaging research, but he actually stars in it. As 5 million players work their way through mind games designed to stimulate the brain, they're coached by an animated version of Dr. Kawashima.

The real Dr. Kawashima was approached by Nintendo after finding that functional MRI scans showed videogames don't use the prefrontal cortex, which controls creativity, memory and communication. Based on his findings that mental challenges build brain power, he explored developing a game to exercise those frontal regions. He spent five months working with programmers in his lab, attaching electrodes to gamers' heads and using scans to determine which puzzles most activated the brain. He found increased brain activity when people were performing simple math calculations and reading aloud.

The result just hit U.S. stores in the form of a Nintendo game called “Brain Age: Training Your Brain in Minutes a Day!”

“I wanted to make a contribution through my findings: to tell the world that you can train the brain,” says Dr. Kawashima. “But I didn't think it would be this big.”

©2006 American Academy of Neurology

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