Friday, December 2, 2011

Violent video games change 'emotion areas' in brain

How violent video games affect the brain is subject to a lot of controversy. Some scientists claim that violence in games is harmful, while others claim they do not influence our behaviour at all. While it is still not clear how violence can influence our behaviour, a new study has shown that there are at least some changes visible in the brain when playing violent games. However, it still remains to be seen whether that has any lasting consequences.

Playing games
During the study, 14 participants were asked to play a violent video game for about 10 hours during a week. A control group of similar size was asked not to play. Thereafter, the gamers took a week off, after which the results were gathered. To measure brain changes, the scientists, working at Indiana University, used the brain scanning technique fMRI. The participants were characterized as being low exposed to video games prior to the study. During the study, the scientists measured brain activity with fMRI prior to the gaming sessions, after one week and after two weeks.

Brain changes
After a week of playing games, fMRI showed that participants had a lower activity in brain areas used to control emotions, when compared to their baseline level and when compared to the control group that played no games. However, the difference was smaller when the brain scanning was repeated a week after, when none of the participants had played violent games. The results were obtained while the participants were performing a task that measures whether they can control their emotions. According to the researchers, allowing the participants to play in their own environment provides more realistic results than earlier studies performed in a lab setting. The picture below shows brain activity during the test.

It remains unknown whether the brain changes also correspond to behavioural changes. Therefore, more study is required to assess the actual impact of video games, even though this has been studied extensively before without clear-cut results. The scientists claim their study shows a long-lasting effect of playing video games, but their results do not seem to back it up. They only scanned participants up to a week after playing, which means long-term data is lacking from their study. In addition, the results show that in the second week, the brain activity was seemingly returning to its normal state. Therefore it remains to be seen whether playing video games induces lasting changes in the brain.

While scientists argue about whether games can make us violent, previous studies have shown that gamers have a bigger 'reward area' in their brain. That seems to correlate with decreased deliberation time during a betting game, which hints at feelings of addiction. While behavioural changes were observed, it remains unknown whether gaming is inducing the aforementioned changes. It is also possible that people with a larger reward area in their brain are more prone to playing games.

1 comment:

  1. One of the most interesting post I have ever read before about this crucial topic. thanks