Violence in games stimulates brain for aggression

Watching fake violence makes blood flow to the part of the brain associated with aggression, a new study says.

Violent video games appear to put the human brain in a mood to fight, according to a new study from Michigan State University.

In the study, 13 males played the first-person shooter game "Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror" while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) system, which measures brain activity. The brain scans of 11 of the subjects exhibited "large observed effects" characteristic of aggressive thoughts. The researchers said the pattern of brain activity can be considered to be caused by virtual violence.

"There is a causal link between playing the first-person shooting game in our experiment and brain-activity pattern that are considered as characteristic for aggressive cognitions and effects," said Rene Weber, assistant professor of communication and telecommunication at MSU. "There is a neurological link, and there is a short-term causal relationship. Violent video games frequently have been criticized for enhancing aggressive reactions such as aggressive cognitions, aggressive effects or aggressive behavior. On a neurobiological level we have shown the link exists."

fMRI monitors the brain and examines how it is stimulated by different types of physical sensation or activity. Sight, sound, touch and other physical sensations show up on an fMRI image. Increased blood flow to a section of the brain indicates increased activity.

Brain scan
Credit: Michigan State University
Brain activity images during video
game play.

In the study, the researchers tracked brain activity of the subjects as well as took physiological observations of the subject. The data was then analyzed on a frame-by-frame basis with the game.

The 13 subjects, all in Germany, ranged in age from 18 to 26 and played an average of 15 hours of video games a week. At a minimum, the subjects played five hours of video games a week.

The study, and likely others that follow it, are part of an ongoing larger debate about video games . California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill placing restrictions on the sale of M-, or mature-, rated games. Other states have passed or are considering similar legislation .

Game publishers and advocates, by contrast, say these laws will be ineffective and could violate the First Amendment and Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Parent groups also have entered the debate, often applauding the restrictions.

Klaus Mathiak of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany, and Ute Ritterfeld of the University of Southern California also participated in the study.

The entire report of the research will appear in the January 2006 edition of Media Psychology.

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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