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Gentlemen, hang on to your gray matter. After playing violent video games for one week, young adult men showed signs of sustained changes in a region of the brain associated with emotional control, according to a new study from Indiana University. “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,” says Yang Wang, assistant research professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Indiana University. “The affected brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”
Looking inside the brain For the study, 28 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games were randomly assigned to two groups of 14. Members of the first group were instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours at home for one week and refrain from playing the following week. The second group did not play a video game at all during the two-week period. Each of the men underwent MRI analysis while they completed an emotional interference task, and after just one week, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional Stroop task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting Stroop task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning,” says Wang. “These effects may translate into behavioral changes over longer periods of game play.
Lifespan expert on the outcomes GoLocalProv spoke with Peter J. Snyder, PhD, Vice President for Research and Institutional Official & Scientific Integrity Officer at Lifespan Affiliated Hospitals, about the study and his own research on the issue. The study in question points to some alarming neurological outcomes with regards to violent gaming. Do you feel the study is worthwhile science? In other words, are these implications we should be paying attention to? I do think that this is an important study, and it is “worthwhile science”, although there are clearly limitations: 1) it is a single study that deserves to be replicated; 2) it was conducted in a somewhat small sample (28 young men), although that is not such a small sample for expensive imaging studies; and 3) it is essentially a short-duration study that does not study the long-term effects of chronic exposure to video game violence. In addition, the effects on the developing brain – in younger children – may be different from what was observed in a young adult sample, in ways that have not yet been studied with modern neuroimaging techniques. One interesting thing about the current study is that the focus is on video gaming, and the entire history of truly violent video gaming on computers is just not that old yet. Neither is the history of high-resolution fMRI as a way to image function dynamically in the human brain. So, this study is using modern imaging techniques to study a very modern problem; there is not a whole lot of prior literature to compare this too. The best and most relevant literature to compare this to is the study of exposure to violence on television, and this actually has been well-studied. In comparing these new data (with video games) to the studies completed that look at the effects of repeated exposure to television violence on children’s behavior (both immediately and when followed over years) and hormonal responses, these new results fit PERFECTLY. So, yes, we should be paying attention to this.
From your experience, have you seen research that supports this or the opposite? As noted above, I am aware of numerous studies that support these results (in looking at exposure to television violence), but I am not aware of much credible results that support the opposite. There are lots of studies that lead to the same conclusion that repeated and frequent exposure to television violence leads to diminished emotional reactivity amongst viewers (this fits precisely with the new fMRI data). Moreover, there is good evidence that repeated exposure to violence in early life can lead to an increase in aggressiveness later on – and this is a position that is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. Interestingly, a study shows that television violence exposure leads to increased tendencies to argue, disobey and to hit others (in children), and this holds also for exposure to cartoon violence on TV….which may be more directly analogous to the video gaming experience. Should we be concerned about this data? How big a deal is this? To put this into some real-world perspective, I do not allow my children to play video games at all during the school week, and we do not allow any sort of violent video games at all. We also limit television time and monitor what is viewed. As a parent and as a clinical neuropsychologist, I am convinced by the data.