Report: Violent video games alter brain patterns

The debate over violent video games and their effects has raged on for over two decades. The latest? Researchers are now claiming they can demonstrate negative reactions in the brain caused by violent games in young men.

That’s because a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play has tracked changes in sections of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult men.

And it only took one week of gaming for the changes to show up on fMRI.


The results of the study were recently presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).


The potential harm from violent video games is such a controversial topic that it was even discussed in the Supreme Court in 2010.

Even though people have had concerns over video games for some time, there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating a prolonged negative neurological effect.


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


“These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”


The study consisted of 22 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with little past exposure to violent video games. They were randomly assigned to two groups of 11.


The first group was instructed to play a shooting game for 10 hours at home for one week, and then for the second week they were told not to play any video games.


The second group played no games at all during their two-week period.


The 22 men all had an fMRI at the beginning of the study and there were follow-ups at the one and two week marks. While the fMRI was being conducted, the participants did an emotional interference task. They pressed buttons according to the color of visually presented words.


Words that indicated violent acts were scattered among the nonviolent action words. Additionally, the men completed a cognitive inhibition counting activity.


After one week of violent gaming, the results showed that the video game group had less activity in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after a week.


The changes to the decision-making parts of the brain were reduced after the second week without gaming.


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