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Study: Violent Video Games Linked To Emotional Control

An IU study shows that playing violent video games causes a change in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control.

playing a video game

Photo: Rebecca Pollard (Flickr)

The study authors emphasized that playing violent video games has not been linked to violent behavior.

For the first time an experimental study has shown a direct relationship between playing violent video games and a subsequent “change” in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control.

The study looked at 28 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games were randomly assigned to two groups of 14. 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 video game at all during the two-week period. Each of the 28 men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) analysis at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks.

During FMRI, the participants 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 called a stroop task, which tests an individual’s ability to control cognitive flexibility and attention.

The results showed that after one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional stroop task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting stroop task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the video game group refrained from game play for an additional week, the changes to the executive regions of the brain returned closer to the control group.

“If you didn‘t play the video game you stayed the same,” says Dr. Tom Hummer, with the IU School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study. “If you did play about 10 hours over the course of the week, you saw a decrease in prefrontal cortex activity.”

The study did not factor in the behavior of subjects after they played video games, and the study did not show any link between violent video games and an increase in violent behavior.

“If you‘re in an argument or in some situation where there might have more agressive behavior then that‘s when you might need your emotions under control and that‘s where you might see more behavioral effects.” Hummer said.

The study‘s authors note that the controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to players has been debated for many years, but there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect.

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