Playing violent video games may be bad for the brain


"That's why we chose to do a full neuro-imaging study, scanning the brains of habitual players of action video games and comparing them to non-players, and what we saw was less grey matter in the hippocampus of habitual players". Could first person shooters really be causing brain damage?

"We saw less grey matter in the hippocampus of habitual players".

Lead author Greg West, an associate professor of psychology at the Université de Montréal, and McGill University associate professor of psychiatry Véronique Bohbot conducted the four year neuroimaging study on 100 adults with no history of regular video game playing.

Previous studies have shown that hippocampus depletion puts a person at risk of developing brain illnesses and diseases ranging from depression to schizophrenia, Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Alzheimer's disease. The problem is, the more they use the caudate nucleus, the less they use the hippocampus, and as a result the hippocampus loses cells and atrophies, the new study shows. The findings don't apply to all kinds of action video games, though.

"But there is also evidence that there might be a cost to that, in terms of the impact on the hippocampus". The participants, many of whom played popular titles Call of Duty, Counterstrike, Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War, all had reduced grey matter in their hippocampus.

Gamers engrossed in games like Call of Duty make little use of their hippocampus - crucial for memory - which responds by wasting away like an under-exercised muscle, researchers found.

Playing 3D games for the same amount of time, however, increased gray matter in the hippocampal memory system of all participants. Players who do not use spatial memory strategies such as landmarks to navigate through a first-person shooting game, but spontaneously rely on response strategies such as counting and patterning to find their way around the game are even more affected. Response learners, in turn, tend to have more grey matter in their caudate nucleus. Rather, the scientists learned that those video games where no spatial memory strategy is required are responsible for the effect.

He suggests that in-game Global Positioning System and way finding routes overlaid on the display of many games prod players in the right direction, without them having to employ spatial strategies such as remembering the relationship between different landmarks.

Researchers scanned the brains of 97 volunteers before and after 90 hours of gaming.

After establishing their learning strategy, the participants began playing the games.

Before the experiment, each participant was interviewed about the strategies they use to navigate in order to learn whether or not they were spatial learners or response learners.

So if you want to play it safe, it's better to stick with "Super Mario".