A classic computer game teaches about reaping the neurological rewards of repetition


The classic, old-school challenge known to any video game fan on the planet, Tetris is not only notorious for its nostalgia but also for its creepy effect of seeping into our brains long after we shut it off. Whether enjoyed on a clunky computer, a gameboy or even through a retro app on your iPhone, those hypnotic Tetris blocks have a surreal ability to spill into real life – well after you shut off the game, you still see the Tetris blocks in your mind’s eye. Creepier still, as you drift off to fall asleep, you see the blocks as your mind continues to play the game, even when you’re physically not.

This lingering effect of a rainbow’s spectrum of colored blocks has demonstrated much about the human brain and how it is we learn. A recent academic study found that playing Tetris can grow your brain and make it more efficient – as study participants played the game for an average of 1.5 hours a week over three months and their cerebral cortexes responded in kind – the gray matter of the girls grew thicker, while brain activity decreased compared to when they started.

It would seem then, that the game inspired what is now known as the “Tetris learning effect” – in which the brain actually grows while simultaneously consuming less energy as mastery of the game rises.

The phenomenon is explained by neurons or nerve cells in your brain that make connections and communicate through synapses. Learning something, even something as simple as a game of Tetris, allows you to change those neural connections – and then, every time you reactivate a circuit, synaptic efficiency increases, and connections become more durable and easier to reactivate.

Essentially, the Tetris learning effect tells us that whenever you do specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of your brain power over time. And that’s a discovery with pretty amazing potential, as it offers the basis for a huge opportunity to change any aspect of our behavior for the better:

The Positive Tetris Effect

The New Year is always a perfect time to pursue something lofty, like making positive response patterns more automatic. Instead of Tetris, let’s change the name of the game to being more aware of the positive aspects of life, and fighting off the brain’s natural tendency to scan for and spot the negatives. Naturally, by this process, we bring ourselves into better balance. Just as we seek out the prime spots for those little blocks, we can retrain our brains to scan for the good things in life – to help us see more possibility, to feel more energized and to succeed at higher levels. Just think, if something as trivial as the game of Tetris can have a scientifically measurable effect on people’s brains and invade their dreams, imagine the impact of practicing and retaining a more positive thinking pattern,on both our mind and our physiology. In the name of fun and games, seek out the undiscovered path that if walked once, makes us happy, and if walked diligently and courageously, over and over again, will make us happier than we ever believed we could be. Turns out, the game’s as simple as that.


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