Science Briefs: Report says action video games may have more benefits for the brain

An image from “Wolfenstein: The New Order”: Researchers also cited “Grant Theft Auto V” as well as games from other genres, such as “StarCraft,” “Portal 2” and “Rise of Nations,” as having brain benefits.
An image from “Wolfenstein: The New Order”: Researchers also cited “Grant Theft Auto V” as well as games from other genres, such as “StarCraft,” “Portal 2” and “Rise of Nations,” as having brain benefits. Bethesda Softworks via AP

Action video games lauded for improving cognition skills

An article in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences argues that among video games, it is the specific content, dynamics and mechanics of individual games that determine their effects on the brain – and that action video games might have particularly positive benefits.

Psychology professors C. Shawn Green of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Aaron R. Seitz of the University of California write that action video games – which feature quickly moving targets that come in and out of view, include large amounts of clutter and that require users to make rapid, accurate decisions – have particularly positive cognitive effects, even when compared to “brain games” created specifically to improve cognitive function.

According to the article, “Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition.”

Fingerprints may show ancestral background

A new study finds it is possible to identify an individual’s ancestral background based on his or her fingerprint characteristics – a discovery with significant applications for law enforcement and anthropological research.

“This is the first study to look at this issue at this level of detail, and the findings are extremely promising,” said Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at N.C. State University and senior author of a paper in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology describing the work. “But more work needs to be done. We need to look at a much larger sample size and evaluate individuals from more diverse ancestral backgrounds.”

The research has looked at Level 1 details, such as pattern types and ridge counts. Forensic fingerprint analysis, used in criminal justice contexts, looks at Level 2 details: the more specific variations, such as bifurcations, where a fingerprint ridge splits.

For this study, researchers looked at Level 1 and Level 2 details of right index-finger fingerprints for 243 individuals: 61 African American women; 61 African American men; 61 European American women; and 60 European American men. The fingerprints were analyzed to determine whether there were patterns that were specific to either sex or ancestral background.

The researchers found no significant differences between men and women but did find significant differences in the Level 2 details of fingerprints between people of European American and African American ancestry.

Cool news about rechargeable batteries

Don’t go sticking your electronic devices in a toaster oven just yet, but for a longer-lasting battery, you might someday heat them up when not in use. Over time, the electrodes inside a rechargeable battery cell can grow tiny, branch-like filaments called dendrites, causing short circuits that kill the battery or even set it aflame. But experiments and computer simulations at the California Institute of Technology have explored in detail how higher temperatures can break down these dendrites and possibly extend battery life.

Asghar Aryanfar, the Caltech scientist who led the study, published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, said that while the researchers looked at lithium batteries, which are among the most efficient, the results can be applied broadly: “The dendrite problem is general to all rechargeable batteries.”