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Excessive Gaming Increases Aggression and Addictiveness in Teens, New Neuroscience Article States

A new article published in Neurology Now argues that too much gaming can negatively affect adolescent brains.

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An article published on Neurology Now, an official publication of the American Academy of Neurology, argues that excessive gaming changes not only the outward behavior of teenagers, but also the fundamental wiring of adolescent brains. The article makes it clear that such changes can be very beneficial and advantageous, but it suggests that excessive gaming can be detrimental to brain development.

Most of the arguments presented in the article revolve around the consequences of dopamine on the teenage brain. Studies show that gaming activates pleasure centers in the brain, releasing the chemical and stimulating positive emotions. But the problem is, gaming is designed to target these centers, and the brain responds by producing less dopamine each time. As the article's author, Amy Paturel, explains, "With all that extra dopamine lurking around, the brain gets the message to produce less of this critical neurotransmitter. The end result: players can end up with a diminished supply of dopamine."

Gaming also stimulates only certain regions of the brain, Paturel states: "As far back as the early 1990s, scientists warned that because video games only stimulate brain regions that control vision and movement, other parts of the mind responsible for behavior, emotion, and learning could become underdeveloped."

As a case study, Paturel presents the story of Anthony Rosner, who was addicted to World of Warcraft and often played for 18 hours a day. Rosner's life outside of the game started to fall apart, and he struggled with weight gain and a loss of friends. Paturel uses this man to support the idea that gaming in excess is harmful to mental, social, and physical health. "At age 17, Anthony Rosner of London, England, was a hero in the World of Warcraft online gaming community. He built empires, led raids, and submerged himself in a fantasy world that seemingly fulfilled his every need. Meanwhile, his real life was virtually nonexistent. He neglected his schoolwork, relationships, health, even his hygiene."

As far back as the early 1990s, scientists warned that because video games only stimulate brain regions that control vision and movement, other parts of the mind responsible for behavior, emotion, and learning could become underdeveloped.

Finally, Paturel takes on the controversial and murky topic of violence in video games. Although she acknowledges that evidence is scarce for violent video games actually causing violent behavior, she cites several studies that show a link between aggressive games and real-life aggressive thoughts and behavior. "For a kid who already has an aggressive personality," she writes, "that could be a problem, say experts, since video games reward those aggressive tendencies. In fact, two separate studies found that playing a violent video game for just 10–20 minutes increased aggressive thoughts compared to those who played nonviolent games."

Paturel, however, goes on to support some of the advantages that gaming has on the brain. Adolescents who play video games are actually growing up better prepared to enter the workforce and respond to changing work environments. "Such games also require players to think of an overall strategy, perform several tasks simultaneously, and make decisions that have both an immediate and long-term impact. 'That's very much like the multi-tasking inherent in most jobs today,' says [neurologist] Dr. Willis. 'These young people may be better equipped to switch between tasks easily, adapt to new information, and modify their strategy as new input comes in.'"

The neuroscience behind video games has been insubstantial and controversial for decades. In March, another study found that violent video games could increase aggression in a person's life. Soon after, the study was criticized by some professors for being simplistic, sensationalist, and not well supported.

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