Study Says Your Brain Is Altered by Violent Games

A new research study presented at the annual Radiological Society of North America meeting recently revealed findings which indicate a correlation between playing violent video games and changes in areas of the brain related to cognitive and emotional functions.

The study used fMRI scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of the brains of 22 young adult men, between the ages of 18 and 29, who did not play video games on a regular basis. The researchers split this group into two randomly assigned units of 11. Members of the first group were then instructed to play a shooter video game for 10 hours during the first week followed by the second week in which no games were played. The second control group did not play violent video games at all during the two-week testing period.

Each of the 22 participants received fMRI scans at the start of the study with additional scans taking place after the first week and finally at the end of the two week session. Furthermore, each of the subjects completed an “emotional inference task” during these examinations which consisted of pressing buttons in response to the color of visually presented words. Words referring to violent actions were dispersed among nonviolent verbs. A counting task was also included among the study.

After the first week of playing the violent video game, the gamer group showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task (the one with violent and non-violent word associations) and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting exercise. After the second week, in which the gamer group refrained from play, the alterations found in these regions became diminished (implying that the brain was returning to its original state).

Dr. Yang Wang, assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, had this to say:

“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home … These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”

However, Dr. Michael Lipton of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York added (and if I may chime in, clearly a superior thinker as to being affiliated with a university named after Albert freakin’ Einstein):

“There have been a lot of studies that expose patients to novel behaviors, and you see changes in brain activity that then go away over time … The problem is, how does that translate into real world functionality?”

I agree, that caution should be used when jumping to conclusions on the effect of gaming on emotional and cognitive behavior. Of course the brain will be effected by learning new behavior but has the study actually supported that the effects were necessarily negative (yes, the regions displayed less activation but how does it correlate with functionality)? I also can’t help but question why the study ignored the female gender when the gender division among gamers is not so large as it used to be several years ago. I believe that in order to have the most holistic study, response associated with gender would have to be included.

Not only that, but why solely emphasis on violent games? What if the gamer group had been playing a non-violent game along the likes of Tetris, Portal, or Mario? Subsequently, what if playing non-violent games yielded similar results as found in this study? Would this would imply that it’s not the content of the game itself that alters brain patterns but the act of gaming alone (i.e. learning a new activity)? And what about the brain of someone who has been gaming or playing violent games for years? Would the effects necessarily be long term? Perhaps the effect diminishes after enough exposure. Obviously, the findings are preliminary for now and further research will be required in order to draw a stronger link. However, I am not a psychologist by any means, so feel free to chew me up in the comments below…

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