PROVEN: Violent video games mess with your head
Brain boffins show how shooters deaden your soul
In the never-ending battle over whether violent video games incite impressionable gamers to commit unspeakable acts – or, at minimum, become obnoxious – hardware-wielding brain boffins have pried into young men's heads and discovered that, yes, digital mayhem alters your brain.
"For the first time," said researcher Dr. Yang Wang of the Indiana University School of Medicine, "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."
And not just any frontal brain regions. "These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior," said Wang.
The study – the results of which were presented this week at the the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America – involved "22 healthy adult males" between the ages of 18 and 29 who had little past experience with violent video games.
These manly fellows were dived into two equal groups. One was instructed to play a first-person shooter for 10 hours during one week, then leave it alone for a second week; the other abstained from simulated shoot-'em-ups. (Possibly they indulged in a wee bit of Angry Birds or Tiny Wings, but the researchers didn't say.)
Before the two-week period began, each participant underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brainscan to establish a baseline. A follow-up fMRI scan was then performed one week into the study, and another at the end of the two-week period.
In a nutshell, an fMRI reveals activity – or lack of it – in specific regions of the brain by detecting oxygen levels in the blood in those regions. Since neuroscientists have been increasingly able to map brain regions to emotional and cognitive functions, an fMRI can detect what's going on inside a subject's noggin.
And for defenders of the position that violent video games have no effect on "healthy adult males", what Wang and his team discovered was not good news.
During the fMRI sessions both groups were given an "emotional interference task" designed to detect their response to words describing violent actions, as well as a "cognitive inhibition" task designed to detect, well, inhibited cognition.
After one week of playing violent video games, the first group showed lower activity in their left inferior frontal lobes – associated with empathy – when involved in the emotional task. The fMRI also detected less activity in the game-players' anterior cingulate cortexes – associated with conflict monitoring, error detection, and emotional control – during the cognitive task.
After not playing for the second week, the effects were diminished, but not eliminated entirely.
"These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning," Wang concluded.
The argument over whether or not violent video games alter your behavior is certain to continue, but the work of Wang and his team add significant support to the argument that they do, indeed, alter your brain. ®
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"Likewise, if you watch lots of Care Bear movies or play touchy feely games, you'll be more likely to act out what you saw. Really, it's a complicated version of "monkey see, monkey do" or "you are what you eat.""
Actually, that's something I noticed while reading the article and the study; this study specifically is NOT controlled for non-violent video games.
Which kind of invalidates the conclusion, I feel. It could very well be that violent video games cause this kind of prefrontal inhibition, sure. But without a control group, the data don't support that conclusion; what the data support is that spending ten hours in a single week on a specific type of repetitive task will cause that inhibition.
That the key causal factor is the violence is an inference, and not necessarily a good one. Video games of all kinds, whether Doom or Tetris, cause heightened types of cognitive processing, as well as changes in stress-related hormones, focus, and concentration. The data from this particular study might suggest that violent games cause inhibition of the left inferior frontal lobe...but it might ALSO support the conclusion that elevated adrenaline causes inhibition of the left inferior frontal lobe, or that prolonged periods of eustress causes inhibition of the left inferior frontal lobe, or that prolonged pattern-recognition, spatial mapping, and real-time strategic mapping of the type required to play a 3D first-person causes inhibition of the left inferior frontal lobe.
By not including a control group that spends a similar period of time playing a video game which requires similar levels of focus but isn't violent, the authors produced a study which does not (necessarily) support its conclusions. Frankly, I wouldn't expect this level of research to pass muster in a second-year university class.
makes me question what effect long term exposure to actual violence does to the brain? Soldiers, Police officers etc.
Also, if the effect is just that of gaming in general or specific to violent games. More information needed here.
>>After not playing for the second week, the effects were diminished, but not eliminated entirely.
"These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning," Wang concluded.<<
Since when has one week been defined as long term. Did Dr Wang stop the study at two weeks just in case that the effect would vanish completely at three weeks? The answer, folks, is yes.
So they picked people with little to no experience playing "violent video games" for this study. Had they had extensive exposure to other types of video games, just CHOSE not to play FPS titles? Choosing a bunch of non-gamers, and having them play video games 2-3 hours a day when they previously didn't play games will likely result in SOME kind of change in their brain activity. Whether that activity is positive or negative is a completely different question. Repeat this study with a random sample of gamers and non-gamers included, and see if the effects are the same on people who had done extensive game playing previously would be a good place to start.
Exactly. I thought this was a much better look at that study: