Study: violent video games alter brain function in men

November 28, 2011 5:17:22 PM PST
The controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to users has raged for many years, making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010. But there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect.

A new study supported by the Center for Successful Parenting in Indiana may have found that evidence.

"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 Yang Wang, M.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. "These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior."

The study tested 22 healthy adult males aged 18 to 29 with low past exposure to violent video games and randomly assigned each of them to two groups of 11. Members of the first group were instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours at home for one week and refrain from playing the following week. The second group did not play a violent video game at all during the two-week period. Each of the 22 men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks. During fMRI, the participants were tested on how they responded to the visual representations of words indicating violent actions and nonviolent action words. In addition, the participants completed a counting task.

The results showed that after one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the parts of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control than in their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week without game play, these changes in brain function were diminished.

"These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning," Dr. Wang said.