A new study suggests playing violent video games results in changes to brain regions for up to a week after partaking in the activity.
Researchers studied the brain with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They found changes in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult men after one week of game play. The effects gradually diminished after two weeks.
The controversy over whether violent video games are potentially harmful to users has raged for many years, making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010. But there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect.
“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home,” said Yang Wang, M.D. “These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 22 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games into two groups of 11.
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 violent video game at all during the two-week period.
Each of the 22 men underwent fMRI at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks.
During fMRI, the participants completed a battery of psychological tests. These included an emotional interference task where subjects press 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.
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 task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week.
After the second week without game play, the changes to the executive regions of the brain were diminished.
Because the study’s sample size was small, the results need to be considered preliminary until confirmed by additional research. It’s also not clear from the data presented whether the brain changes mapped by the fMRI are the result of engaging in a novel, new cognitive activity, versus specifically just video games.
The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).