One week playing violent video games alters brain activity

Randomly assigned young men exhibited less activity in certain frontal brain regions involving cognitive function and emotional control after playing a violent video game for 10 hours in one week.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine have been studying the effects of media violence for more than a decade. Now, for the first time, they are showing that violent video games directly alter brain activity--not after years of play, but after one week.

A random sample of young men exhibited less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games. Indiana University School of Medicine

It must be noted that the researchers, who presented their findings at this week's Radiological Society of North America annual meeting in Chicago, studied only 28 young men, ages 18 to 29. In other words, these findings are preliminary at best.

Still, the small study shows a direct relationship between playing violent video games and exhibiting less activity in frontal brain regions associated with emotional control and cognitive function.

"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," Yang Wang, assistant research professor in IU's Department of Radiology and Imaging Science, says in a news release. "The affected brain regions are important for controlling emotions and aggressive behavior."

The researchers studied a healthy group of 28 22 18- to 29-year-old men with low previous exposure to violent video games, randomly splitting them into two groups of 14.

One group played a shooting video game for 10 hours over the course of one week, and then not at all over the course of the second week. The control group did not play any video games at all during the two-week period.

Both groups had functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis at the start, after the first week, and after the second week. While their brains were imaged, they completed an emotional interference task and a cognitive inhibition counting task.

It turns out that those playing video games showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task compared with both their baseline results and the control group's results at one week. After the second week, consisting of no video gaming, these changes returned closer to baseline levels.

Clearly, this study begs for further investigation. Does the amount of gaming play a role? How long does it take for this change in brain function to restore completely to baseline levels? Will these results hold among a larger cohort? And why not compare brain imaging of those playing violent video games to those playing nonviolent ones?

If these results indicate anything, it is that when it comes to the effects of violent media on our brains, the jury is still out.