Do Violent Games Affect Brain Function?

Computer simulated pyramidal neurons brain function


In a word, yes. Thanks to medical research by Dr Vincent Matthews and his team in 2011 at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, proof has been found. MRIs show violent games affect brain function.

Brain scans were carried out to map the areas impacted by 30-minute sessions of violent gaming in young men. The results showed that players of violent games had diminished activity in the brain centres that regulate emotions, impulse control and inhibition. The brain areas that control concentration and attention are also compromised by violent games.

First-person shooter games (e.g., Medal of Honor: Frontline) “fire up” the amygdala, the emotional arousal centre of the brain. To complicate matters, the parts of the brain that regulate self-control are subdued by the violent gaming.

These changes can occur from as little as 2 hours of violent gaming a week. The demonstrated brain changes evidenced in Dr Matthew’s study have been likened to those seen in teens with destructive sociopathic disorders.

Here’s the kicker:

Altered brain function doesn’t necessarily equal changed behaviour.

It’s important to note that while the findings demonstrate what happens inside the brain, they may not translate to behaviour. More research is needed to prove a direct link between playing violent computer games and aggression. Researchers also pointed out that the changes don’t appear to be permanent. Brain function returns to normal when the violent gaming ceases.

Interestingly, non-violent games that focus on racing or skill (e.g., Need for Speed) appear to have a different effect on the brain. When young people played skill games, their brain’s frontal area “lit up” on the scans. That is the area associated with concentration and self-regulation.

Dr Matthews advises, “Individuals and parents of children who choose to play (computer) games need to be aware that there are changes in brain function, and they need to consider that when they decide whether or not to play these games.”

The Indiana University study was completed in 2011, and research continues in this field. e-Quipped will monitor the latest findings on how violent games affect brain function and behaviour. Watch this space!

The School Counsellor’s Two-bits:

If your computer gaming son or daughter:

  • Struggles with impulse control to a degree that he or she is regularly getting into trouble
  • Has consistent difficulty regulating his or her anger (and other strong emotions)
  • Is dreamy and finds concentrating a challenge to the point where grades suffer and learning is compromised

…it would be advisable to say “no” to violent, first-person shooter games and instead steer them toward skill games.

Good can come from gaming, but it needs to have brackets around it. Set age-appropriate time limits, and set and enforce house rules about when gaming can happen (days of the week? linked to completed chores/behaviour goals?) Insist on balance!

What to Read More?

e-Quipped explained what’s (potentially) good about Minecraft.

Check out this article from Time magazine.

Here’s a good one on the Middle Schooler’s brain. Scroll down to the section titled, “No Virtual Violence.”

An abstract from the University of Indiana’s research can be found here.


Creative Commons Image Credit: Prof M Hauser | UCLA | Wellcome Images


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