The finding by researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) shows the potential for novel virtual approaches to helping people who lose memory as they age or suffer from dementia.

For their research, Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson of UCI's Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory recruited non-gamer college students to play either a video game with a passive, two-dimensional environment ('Angry Birds') or one with an intricate, 3-D setting ('Super Mario 3D World') for 30 minutes per day over two weeks.

Then they were shown images of the same objects, new ones and others that differed slightly from the original items and asked to categorise them.

Recognition of the slightly altered images requires the hippocampus, Stark said, and his earlier research had demonstrated that the ability to do this clearly declines with age.

This is a large part of why it is so difficult to learn new names or remember where you put your keys as you get older, researchers said.

Students playing the 3-D video game improved their scores on the memory test, while the 2-D gamers did not. The boost was not small either.

The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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