Video Game Violence Goes Straight to Kids' Heads

Brain scans show games boost emotion, lower self-control

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A study of adolescents finds that violent video games stir up the brain's emotional-response center while reducing activity in regions linked to self-control.

"This is the first time that it has been demonstrated that violent video games can affect brain physiology and the way the brain functions," said lead researcher Dr. Vincent Mathews, professor of radiology at Indiana University School of Medicine.

"After playing a violent video game, these adolescents had an increased activity in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional arousal," Mathews said. "At the same time, they had decreases in activity in parts of the brain which are involved in self-control," he added.

The findings were to be presented Tuesday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Video games accounted for $10 billion in sales in the United States last year, but there is growing concern about the effects the games may have on those who play them.

In the study, Mathews's team randomly assigned 44 adolescents to play either a violent video game or a nonviolent video game for 30 minutes. They then had the adolescents undergo functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans while performing tasks that measured concentration and inhibition. fMRI measures real-time changes that occur when the brain is active.

The Indiana group found that, compared to children who weren't playing a violent video game, kids who played these games had more activation in the amygdala, a brain area closely linked to emotional arousal.

At the same time, their brains showed a reduced activation in prefrontal brain areas involved in inhibition, concentration and self-control.

"These findings raise concern that these types of video games are having some sort of effect on the brain and likely an effect on behavior as well," Mathews said.

"This is early evidence for a biological change supporting other research on violent video games," added David S. Bickham, a research scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "This is a first step in this kind of research, but it isn't conclusive," he said.

The research is opening up new areas in understanding the process of how violent media results in negative and aggressive social behaviors, Bickham said.

Bickham said parents need to be vigilant regarding the media they are letting into their homes, since children learn from all media they encounter. "This is more evidence that violent media can lead to aggressive and negative behaviors," he said.

More information

There's more on media violence and children at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SOURCES: Vincent Mathews, M.D., professor, radiology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis; David S. Bickham, Ph.D., research scientist, Center on Media and Child Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Nov. 28, 2006, presentation, Radiological Society of North America meeting, Chicago

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