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Play Violent Video Games and Change Your Brain


Before you purchase violent video games for your kids for Christmas, you might want to change your mind—because those games can change your brain. For the first time, scientists have uncovered biological evidence of less brain activation in areas responsible for aggression and emotions among young male adults who played violent video games for one week.

Violent games can lead to aggressive behavior

The debate over the influence of violent video games has been long and heated. According to Craig Anderson, the Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University who has studied the impact of violent video games on children for years, his research (not this current study) shows that exposure “increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts,” and also increases aggressive thinking.

The new study, conducted by Yang Wang, MD, assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine, and his colleagues, utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of 22 young men aged 18 to 29. None of the men were avid video game players.

Half of the men were asked to play a violent video game for 10 hours for one week and to not play during a second week. The other 11 men were asked to refrain from playing a violent video game for the entire two-week period.

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An fMRI scan was performed at the beginning of the study and at weeks 1 and 2. All the men also completed an emotional test that included violent and nonviolent action words as well as a cognitive inhibition counting task.

During testing, the men who played the violent video game for one week demonstrated less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe and in the anterior cingulated cortex compared with their beginning results and those of the control group. After week two without playing the game, changes to the executive areas of the brain were reduced. Dr. Wang noted that “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.”

The frontal lobe is involved in the ability to choose between good and bad, to recognize the consequences of one’s actions, and to suppress inappropriate social behaviors. The anterior cingulated cortex is involved with the formation of emotions.

Results of this study, which were presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting recently, are a wakeup call for people who believe playing violent video games is a benign experience. Wang noted that “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…These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”

Iowa State University news release
Radiological Society of North America news release