The annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) was presented with a study made of the brain of young men, using fMRI scans (functional magnetic resonance imaging). In as little as one week, regions of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control had noticeable changes.

The arguments for and against video games have been going for as long as the games themselves, and even getting as far as the Supreme Court in 2010, but other than various statistics, there has never been any exact scientific or biological evidence that could be drawn on.

Yang Wang, M.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said:

“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.”

What the researchers did is take 22 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, who were not avid game players in the past. The group was split and randomly assigned into 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.

All 22 men were analysed with an fMRI scan at the beginning of the study and with follow-up exams at one and two weeks. During their examination the participants also completed an emotional interference task, pressing buttons according to the color of visually presented words. Words indicating violent actions were interspersed among nonviolent action words. In addition, the participants completed a cognitive inhibition counting task.

After just one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week without game play, the changes to the executive regions of the brain were diminished.

You would have to wonder as well, if those who watch 10 hours of violent movies per week, might also exhibit a similar change in the brain.

Dr. Wang said:

“These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.”

Michael Lipton, MD, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the study, called the findings preliminary, and that he’s not necessarily surprised by them.

“There have been a lot of studies that expose patients to novel behaviors, and you see changes in brain activity that then go away over time … The problem is, how does that translate into real world functionality?”

Written by Rupert Shepherd