Study links violent games to decreased brain activity

Indiana University researchers find lower response in emotional control, cognitive brain regions of young men following one week of play.

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In a study published earlier this month, researchers at Ghent University in Belgium used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to argue that a frequent gamer's brain has larger-than-normal reward centers. Now, using the same technology, a new set of researchers have found that violent games lower brain activity in regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control.

fMRI technology is building a case against violent games.
fMRI technology is building a case against violent games.

The study focused on adult males aged 18 to 29 with minimal exposure to violent games in the past. Twenty-two of the same were split into two groups of 11 for the two-week study. The first group was charged with playing a violent shooter for 10 hours over a period of one week and then taking the next week off. The second group did not play a violent game at all during the same two-week period.

Prior to and after the two-week period, all participants underwent an fMRI, where they completed an emotional interference task of pressing color-coded buttons assigned to violent or nonviolent action words. Participants were also given a cognitive-inhibition counting task.

Those who played violent games were found to show less activity in the left inferior frontal lobe during emotional tasks and less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex during the cognitive test. This effect diminished after two weeks away from the violent gaming session.

"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," said Indiana University assistant research professor Yang Wang, M.D. "These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior."

The study, which was conducted at the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine, was coauthored by Tom Hummer, Ph.D.; William Kronenberger, Ph.D.; Kristine Mosier, D.M.D., Ph.D.; and Vincent P. Mathews, M.D. It was funded by the Center for Successful Parenting in Indiana.

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