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30 Years Too Late: Video Game Violence Affects Brain Activity

In a story that makes me cringe for all the wrong reasons, we reported earlier today (original article below) about a new study that shows how playing violent video games has an effect on certain areas in the brain:

Compared with the group that played the nonviolent game, the group that played the violent video game demonstrated less activation in the prefrontal portions of the brain, which are involved in inhibition, concentration and self-control, and more activation in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional arousal.

My reaction is, “So what?”

There is an obvious need for some concentration and self-control in playing any video game, violent or not. The fact that someone playing a violent video game — a game specifically designed to arouse an emotional, not a logical, reaction — has less of an emphasis in these areas is not a surprising finding. In fact, it is exactly what any researcher in video game research would have expected.

The fact is, video games have been around now for over 30 years. That’s 3 decades worth of examining their negative effects. And looking at how a whole generation (or two, or three, actually) has grown up with these video games and what their effects are on their productivity, happiness, likelihood to commit a criminal act, etc. No research has shown that these effects lead to long-term changes in behavior.

Next, they’ll conduct a study that shows when a person is riding a roller coaster, it has similar effects on the brain!


How many parents fear the video games played by their teenagers may affect later actions? Many of us hide in denial hoping this will not be the case. Now, a new study has found that adolescents who play violent video games may exhibit emotional arousal and diminished control, focus and concentration.

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

“Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a nonviolent — but exciting — game,” said Vincent P. Mathews, M.D., professor of radiology at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Video games are big business with nearly $10 billion in sales in the United States last year. But along with growing sales come growing concerns about what effects these games may be having on the young people who play them.

Dr. Mathews and colleagues randomly assigned 44 adolescents to play either a violent video game or a nonviolent video game for 30 minutes. The researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain function during a series of tasks measuring inhibition and concentration. One test used emotional stimuli and one did not.

fMRI ScanfMRI measures the tiny metabolic changes that occur when a part of the brain is active. These changes will appear as a brightly colored area on the MR image, indicating the part of the brain that is being used to process the task. The two groups did not differ in accuracy or reaction time for the tasks, but analysis of the fMRI data showed differences in brain activation.

Compared with the group that played the nonviolent game, the group that played the violent video game demonstrated less activation in the prefrontal portions of the brain, which are involved in inhibition, concentration and self-control, and more activation in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional arousal.

“During tasks requiring concentration and processing of emotional stimuli, the adolescents who had played the violent video game showed distinct differences in brain activation than the adolescents who played an equally exciting and fun — but nonviolent — game,” Dr. Mathews said. “Because of random assignment, the most likely factor accounting for these differences would be the group to which the volunteers were assigned.”

The researchers hope to conduct additional research on long-term effects of violent video game exposure and the impact of these brain functioning differences.

“Additional investigation of the reasons for and effects of this difference in brain functioning will be important targets for future study, but the current study showed that a difference between the groups does exist,” Dr. Mathews said.

30 Years Too Late: Video Game Violence Affects Brain Activity


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). 30 Years Too Late: Video Game Violence Affects Brain Activity. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/30-years-too-late-video-game-violence-affects-brain-activity/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Apr 2020 (Originally: 29 Nov 2006)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Apr 2020
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