The Neurobiology of Computer Games

Will computer games damage my child’s brain? Many parents fret about this, as they hover over their gaming child. The child is oblivious to his parents’ angst; he’s too deeply engrossed in mindless bird-slinging or all-out, virtual combat.

This prevalent fear has spawned copious amounts of research. If you’ve followed any of the reports, you may have noticed that the results seem to contradict one another. “Yes! Video games are unhealthy,” declares one finding. “No, computer games are completely innocuous,” assures another.

What’s a non-gaming parent to believe? We have our own anecdotal observations. Some kids become moody and difficult. Some are so wrapped up in cyberspace we wonder if they might get lost there. Many parents claim they’ve witnessed a direct link between their sons’ media time and the appearance of disrespect, sassiness, and loss of enthusiasm for “real word play.”

So what have researchers in neurobiology found, exactly? It turns out that the question, like the brain matter we parents are so keen to protect, is quite complex. The best answer seems to be “yes and no.”

The good news is some video games and media use can result in a host of benefits to a child’s brain and development. These range from enhanced problem solving skills to improved memory and decision making. Many young people report they find the social interaction in online communities to be affirming and point out that they are networking, learning, and developing useful skills.

The bad news relates mostly to violent video games, which can affect mood. War games have been shown to increase aggression and anxiety. One finding showed that these factors were elevated even after the game ended and the computer was shut down.

The following infographic, created by Anson Alexander, shows many of the findings and in particular which part of the brain is affected for good or ill. This info graphic is used with the creator’s permission.