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Researchers: Video games hurt brain development

Japanese researchers say that children who spend many hours playing video games are limiting the development of the part of the brain that controls memory, emotion and learning.

Scientists at Japan's Tohoku University said they've found that computer games stimulate only those parts of the brain devoted to vision and movement and do not aid the development of other important areas of the brain.

The researchers are particularly concerned that by spending many hours playing games some children will not develop their frontal lobes, which play a crucial role in controlling behavior and in developing memory, emotion and learning.

In contrast, tasks such as arithmetic stimulate brain activity in the frontal lobe, which is thought to continue developing until adulthood.

Professor Ryuta Kawashima, who led the team that carried out the research, told The Observer that the discovery is highly important.

"There is a problem we will have with a new generation of children--who play computer games--that we have never seen before," he said. "The implications are very serious for an increasingly violent society, and these students will be doing more and more bad things if they are playing games and not doing other things like reading aloud or learning arithmetic."

Kawashima asserts that children must be encouraged to practice basic mathematics, reading and writing to boost the development of the frontal lobe. He is convinced that children who play video games excessively will not develop their frontal lobes and will consequently be more prone to violent acts because they will be less able to control their behavior.

The study looked at the brain activity of hundreds of students playing a Nintendo game and compared it with other students who were carrying out basic arithmetic. It found that much more brain activity was needed to solve the simple mathematic tasks than was used to play the computer games and that activity in the frontal lobe varied significantly.

Staff writer Graeme Wearden reported from London.