Video Games and Your Brain: A Brain Changing Experience

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A small FMRI study conducted by Vincent Matthews, MD, of Indiana University showed that male gamers who spent 10 hours in one week taking aim at video game characters demonstrated diminished activity in the area of the left inferior frontal lobe and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during inhibition tasks when compared to their own baseline scores.

In an earlier study, Dr. Matthews observed diminished activity in the prefrontal cortex after only 30 minutes of playing violent video games. The most recent study involved 22 men between the ages of 18-29 who had little prior experience with violent video games. Half of the group played a shooting game for 10 hours for one week and the other half refrained from any video gaming during the study. The group who played the video games showed changes in the regions associated with controlling emotional and aggressive behaviors. After a week away from the violent games, the group who showed brain changes returned to normal brain function. Dr. Matthews noted that the findings of his study only address one week of playing violent video games and that the long term effect was unknown. In a future study Dr. Matthews will study the effect of pro-social, non-violent games to mitigate the brain changing effects of violent games.

We don’t yet know how these short-term brain changes translate into long-lasting functional behavior changes, but I do know that this study arouses my curiosity. Can we relate the increase in violence in our society to brain changes brought about by violent games or exposure to violent themes in the media?  For our patients with frontal lobe injuries would exposure to violent video games interfere with rehabilitation and exacerbate their neurobehavioral problems?

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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