Video Game Violence Alters Brain Function in Young Men

November 30, 2011

CHICAGO - Ninety-seven percent of U.S. teens play games either on the computer, Web or console. Of adolescent boys, 50 percent admit to playing video games rated Mature. These statistics are perhaps far more startling after a study presented Wednesday at RSNA that showed violent video games alter brain function in young men.

CHICAGO - Ninety-seven percent of U.S. teens play games either on the computer, Web or console. Of adolescent boys, 50 percent admit to playing video games rated Mature. These statistics are perhaps far more startling after a study presented Wednesday at RSNA that showed violent video games alter brain function in young men.

While some studies have alluded to the fact that violent video games cause more aggressive behavior, there have been very few neuroimaging studies regarding violent games conducted, said study coauthor Vincent P. Mathews.

The controversy on whether violent video games should be on the shelf has been at the center of several court cases, most notably being a 2010 case making it to the Supreme Court. There has, however, been little scientific evidence to support the claim of prolonged neurological effect from violent gaming.

The study followed 28 adult males from the ages of 18 to 29, all with low exposure to video gaming. One group played a first-person shooter game at home for 10 hours the first week, then refrained from play the next week. The other group of men did not play any games during the two-week period.

Each of the men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the beginning of the study and had follow-ups after the first and second week. Participants also completed an emotional interference task as well as a cognitive inhibition counting task.

Compared to baseline results, after one week of violent game play the men showed less activation in the inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task. After the second week with no game play the changes in activation to the sites diminished.

These areas of the brain are responsible for inhibition, monitoring of emotions and attention.
Because there were no demographic differences in the men studied, Mathews said, it is assumed that the altered brain functions were due to the playing of violent games.

“This is the first study of its kind to look at longitudinal effects,” Mathew said. “Although people usually play these games for a lot longer, the point is even with this amount of time there are changes in brain function.”

A previous short-term study, where adolescents were asked to play violent games for 30 minutes, yielded similar results for the researchers. In that study, the boys were split into a group playing a violent shooter game and a group playing an “exciting” but not violent racing game.

Matthews said, “People need to be aware there are changes in the brain when parents allow their children, or adults themselves, choose to spend their leisure time playing violent games.”