Tetris

The Tetris Effect: Re-Wire Your Mind

Tetris

The Tetris Effect:

When the game Tetris was released, it was insanely popular and became an instant classic.  Even the creator of the game himself has said he had trouble finishing the game’s programming because he couldn’t stop playing it during testing!  From the start, the game produced an unforeseen effect on the players’ minds when played very heavily – one that was confusing, somewhat alarming, and ultimately fascinating.

Also known as The Tetris Syndrome, The Tetris Effect occurs when people spend so much time doing a particular activity or pattern of behavior that it inhabits their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.  With Tetris, the players would see the little tetris block formations, or tetronimos, falling and fitting into rows when they weren’t playing anymore.  With other games and activities requiring repetitive behaviors, other similar visual experiences associated with the activity take place.  It is related to something becoming a habit but with real cognitive changes occurring in the brain.

Memory Science:

In psychology, memory is the process through which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved.  There are different types of memory including “declarative memory,” which requires conscious recall.  In other words, some active mental process must occur to recall the information.

Conversely there is “procedural memory,” which is not based on conscious recall but on implicit learning.  Implicit learning takes places when a behavior is learned from repetitive practice.  So procedural memory works when you automatically know how to physically do something without any conscious effort – like tying your shoe, riding a bike, or reading.  Motor skills are developed this way as well as behaviors and patterns of thoughts associated with The Tetris Effect.

Real Studies:

In 2000, a scientist, Robert Stickgold and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School proposed that Tetris imagery is a separate form of memory likely related to procedural memory.  This is from their research in which they showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.

A study conducted by Lynn Okagaki and Peter Frensch in 1994 showed that participants who played Tetris for twelve 30-minute sessions (with no previous experience of the game) did much better than a control group in a spatial skills test.  The result of the experiment was that the game had positive effects on spatial skills abilities including mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

The experience of seeing falling tetris blocks in your mind hours after playing the game can be somewhat alarming, and you might think, “Did I just fry my brain!?”  Playing the game Tetris is very enjoyable for most players, and the somewhat alarming effect of visualizing the game when you aren’t playing it might even have benefits like those described in the studies above.  Overall, it’s a very unique observable scientific phenomenon associated with a popular video game, which is pretty cool.

Tetris

The Tetris Effect: Re-Wire Your Mind

The Tetris Effect:

When the game Tetris was released, it was insanely popular and became an instant classic.  Even the creator of the game himself has said he had trouble finishing the game’s programming because he couldn’t stop playing it during testing!  From the start, the game produced an unforeseen effect on the players’ minds when played very heavily – one that was confusing, somewhat alarming, and ultimately fascinating.

Also known as The Tetris Syndrome, The Tetris Effect occurs when people spend so much time doing a particular activity or pattern of behavior that it inhabits their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.  With Tetris, the players would see the little tetris block formations, or tetronimos, falling and fitting into rows when they weren’t playing anymore.  With other games and activities requiring repetitive behaviors, other similar visual experiences associated with the activity take place.  It is related to something becoming a habit but with real cognitive changes occurring in the brain.

Memory Science:

In psychology, memory is the process through which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved.  There are different types of memory including “declarative memory,” which requires conscious recall.  In other words, some active mental process must occur to recall the information.

Conversely there is “procedural memory,” which is not based on conscious recall but on implicit learning.  Implicit learning takes places when a behavior is learned from repetitive practice.  So procedural memory works when you automatically know how to physically do something without any conscious effort – like tying your shoe, riding a bike, or reading.  Motor skills are developed this way as well as behaviors and patterns of thoughts associated with The Tetris Effect.

Real Studies:

In 2000, a scientist, Robert Stickgold and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School proposed that Tetris imagery is a separate form of memory likely related to procedural memory.  This is from their research in which they showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.

A study conducted by Lynn Okagaki and Peter Frensch in 1994 showed that participants who played Tetris for twelve 30-minute sessions (with no previous experience of the game) did much better than a control group in a spatial skills test.  The result of the experiment was that the game had positive effects on spatial skills abilities including mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

The experience of seeing falling tetris blocks in your mind hours after playing the game can be somewhat alarming, and you might think, “Did I just fry my brain!?”  Playing the game Tetris is very enjoyable for most players, and the somewhat alarming effect of visualizing the game when you aren’t playing it might even have benefits like those described in the studies above.  Overall, it’s a very unique observable scientific phenomenon associated with a popular video game, which is pretty cool.

brain-plug-in-e1458244831104 thumbnail

Instant Learning: The Science of Matrix-like Brain Stimulation

 

What if you could plug into your brain, and upload a program to learn Kung Fu? Sound familiar? This happened in The Matrix (1999) to Neo – his brain was accessed via a plug like device, and a computer fed him a program.  Within minutes, he woke up and announced “I know Kung Fu.” He then practiced his skills before mastering the art, but he did indeed know how to fight. 

In reality, scientists are capable of “talking to” or stimulating the brain in such a way as to teach it something specific that it did not know before. This technology is in infancy, but the fictional world portrayed in The Matrix has now officially become a little closer to our reality.  There are so many meta statements in that statement, my head hurts.

Scientists at HRL Laboratories have released a video about their achievements in Enhanced Training Through Neurostimulation.   This is a stimulation system with the goal of manipulating the brain in order to make it capable of performing a skill it was not capable of before.  In their recent tests, the specific task they were looking at is piloting an airplane. This skill requires a synergy of both cognitive and motor performance.

When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuroplasticity.  It turns out, specific functions of the brain like speech and memory are located in very specific parts of the brain.  This specificity means that scientists are able to target the necessary area to make a lasting impact.  The technology utilized (electrical impulses directed at specific places on someone’s head), is not a new concept. Ancient Egyptians, 4000 years ago, would use electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain in certain areas of their head. Even Ben Franklin applied electric stimulation to his head. Rigorous research didn’t really begin until the early 2000s, regarding a specific application like teaching the brain something new through electrical stimulation.

The experiment takes novice pilots (people who have had a brief experience with flying) and tries to bring their brain state up to an expert level.  This requires physical contact with the scalp using a head cap with lots of sensors attached to it, and conductive gel.  It combines three modes of stimulation. One is called functional neuro infrared spectroscopy – this measures the blood flow changes in the brain. Electroencephalogram – EEG – measures electrical activity of the scalp, indicative of brain activity.  And the third modality is the actual stimulation paradigm.  A paradigm is a typical example or pattern of something, or a model.  So, you could think of the instructions or patterns of brain activity required to be an expert pilot as the paradigm that the test subject is exposed to.

The effects of this stimulation take days or weeks of practice to consolidate.  So, it’s not an instant change, it’s the same learning mechanism as normal learning – as far as changes to the brain – they’re just amplifying the process.  The study showed that novice pilots showed a 33% increase in skill consistency, compared to those who did not receive the stimulation in a placebo group.

This technology is still in its infancy.  It can be utilized not only for skill acquisition, but for helping those with traumatic brain injuries.  So, don’t get the idea that this is literally like software that immediately changes your brain in order to become an expert at a new skill you’ve never encountered before, with no practice necessary afterwards.  It’s not magic, it’s amplifying the process of learning.  It could revolutionary for the future of learning, but practice still make perfect.

One of my questions about this process is; how does the difference in long term memory – declarative vs procedural, impact a new skill like this?  Declarative and Procedural Memory are the two types of long-term human memories. With a skill requiring motor functioning, e.g. flying a plane, an expert would likely say that flying their plane is like second nature. The motor skills involved are not consciously accessed before the pilot is just pushing the right buttons, using the gears the right way and adjusting different features. These skills would become second nature to an expert – and thus become what’s called procedural memory.  

The more abstract details about flying, like information about where they are going that day, what the weather conditions are, new information, or details about, perhaps features of an airport they remember, would be recalled using declarative memory.  Your brain actively has to recall declarative memories.  I’m curious how new skills become procedural – in that they become second nature skills that you don’t think about before being able to perform.  Since the scientists say that these “training” experiences require practice to consolidate, perhaps that’s when new knowledge can possibly become second nature.