By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
June 10, 2007
I don’t like video and computer games much for many reasons. Some of these reasons are scientifically-based and some are cultural. A few are “gut feeling.”
So first, lets limit our initial discussion of a “violent video game.” What is that?
Well, like pornography, you know it when you see it.
I’ll define a violent video game this way: it depicts death, murder, maiming, car crashes that could cause death or grave injury, and other forms of mayhem.
Now a tidbit of scientific study and analysis.
In November, 2006, the University of Indiana Medical School completed an interesting study on the parts of the human brain most engaged while playing activity-based or violent video games. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain function, the Medical School of IU found that adolescents who had played violent video games exhibited more brain activity in a region thought to be important for emotional arousal and less activity in a brain region associated with executive functions. Executive functions are the ability to plan, shift, control and direct one’s thoughts, ideas and behavior.
“Our study indicates that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing an exciting but nonviolent game,” principal study investigator Dr. Vincent Mathews said.
The group that played the nonviolent game exhibited more mental stimulation or activation in the prefrontal portions of the brain. The prefrontal lobes are believed to control inhibition, concentration and self-control. The non-violent game players also showed less activation in the area involved in emotional arousal.
“This data differs from our earlier studies because in this study adolescents were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent game,” said William Kronenberger, associate professor of psychology at the IUSM Department of Psychiatry.
“Therefore, we can attribute the difference between the groups specifically to the type of game played. Earlier studies showed a correlation between media violence exposure and brain functioning, but we did not actually manipulate the teens’ exposure to media violence in those earlier studies,” said William Kronenberger.
Future studies to better understand the duration and meaning of the relationship between exposure to media and brain function are planned.
There is something else to remember: because a child’s brain is still developing, there may be more chance of a long-term debilitating impact from over stimulating some parts of the brain while numbing other parts. We just don’t know for certain.
So parents beware: what we do know is that while playing violent video games a lot is going on in your child’s arousal part of his or her brain while the “thought” section (the cortex of the frontal lobe) of the brain is, well, turned off or nearly so.
Sounds a little like what drugs and alcohol do for the brain.
Medical professionals have concluded after many years of research that prolonged alcohol abuse by an individual results in a shrinkage of the brain. “Brain shrinking is especially extensive in the cortex of the frontal lobe – the location of higher cognitive faculties,” according to Dr. Adolf Pfefferbaum, M.D., co-author of “Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research.”
One might conclude that alcohol has a greater impact in eroding the cortex of the frontal lobe than other parts of the brain.
Scientists also believe that the cortex of the frontal lobe of the human brain – the location of higher cognitive faculties – is somehow not stimulated or otherwise not properly working in rapists and other violent criminals.
Many experts have also opined that playing video games can be addictive, but we did not thoroughly investigate this so we’ll reserve comment until another time.
So, other than the fact that violent video games seem to “numb” the cortex of the frontal lobe of the human brain – the location of higher cognitive faculties and self control – while they stimulate the “arousal” part of the brain, we have no problem with video gaming to excess.
Why did the clergy of the Church of England blow a fuse a few days ago when they found simulated images of their beloved Manchester cathedral in a violent video game?
Because the new PlayStation 3 game, “Resistance: Fall of Man,” shows a virtual shootout between rival gunmen with hundreds of people killed inside the cathedral.
Church officials described Sony’s alleged use of the building as “sick” and sacrilegious.
Now, many of you avid video gamers will call this a typical religious over reaction. But I’ll bet at a few medical Schools, the brain experts will agree with the clergy.
Science can work with religion. Life isn’t all blind faith. Some of it is based on researched facts.
So have a ball playing your video games or watching your children achieve that trance like nirvana with the gear you gave him or her at Christmas!
We’ll leave smart readers to form their own conclusions on this and we highly recommend searching the internet using your favorite system for more information.