Medicine

Playing violent video games may be bad for the brain

Playing violent video games may be bad for the brain

Claims that video games are the cause of violence, teach prejudice and sexism and even damage the brain have popped up numerous times with nothing to back it.

After 90 hours of playing popular shooting games including Call of Duty, Killzone, Medal of Honor and Borderlands 2, brain scans tended to show subjects suffered a loss of grey matter in the hippocampus.

A study published today in Molecular Psychology found that playing action video games like "Call of Duty" reduces the amount of grey matter in the hippocampus, a critical region of the brain largely responsible for storing long-term memories and processing emotional responses.

"Video games have been shown to benefit certain cognitive systems in the brain, mainly related to visual attention and short-term memory", said Greg West, associate professor at UdeM. Then, everyone played 90 hours of action video games and 90 hours of 3D-based games. And in the "Super Mario" group, both response learners and spatial learners responded positively to the 3D platform games, increasing their hippocampal grey matter. A new study found such approaches are turning gamers into responsive spatial learners.

Canadian researchers found hard core action game players had less gray matter in their hippocampus.

For this reason, while the researchers caution against excessive playing of action video games, in particular by children, young adults and older adults populations with cognitive issues, they also say the design of first-person shooter and action games could be changed to promote a better balance of brain activity.

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Video games can boost your attention and memory skills. More grey matter in the hippocampus means a healthier brain, all round.

"These results show that video games can be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system depending on the navigation strategy that a person employs and the genre of the game", the authors reported.

Shaped like a seahorse, hence its name, the hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps people to orient themselves (so-called spatial memory) and to remember past experience (episodic memory).

The participants started out in a virtual central hub, from which they had to navigate down four identical-looking paths and capture specific objects.

Researchers first determined whether the 100 participants were spatial or response learners. Response learners didn't do that; they ignored the landmarks and concentrated instead on remembering a series of right and left turns in a sequence from their starting position.

He suggests that in-game Global Positioning System and way finding routes overlaid on the display of many games prod players in the right direction, without them having to employ spatial strategies such as remembering the relationship between different landmarks.


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