Action video games: Negative Effects on the Brain

People who are used to playing “Call of Duty” first-person video games have the less gray matter in their hippocampus, an essential part of the brain. All video games do not present this danger, and a modification of the designers could mitigate it. Explanations.

A text of Alain Labelle

recent years, several studies have shown that players shooting video game in the first person had better visual attention, better short-term memory, and fine motor skills better than normal.

Recent studies by Gregory West, professor of psychology at the Université de Montréal, and Véronique Bohbot, professor of psychiatry at McGill University, show that these games can do more harm than good.

Researchers have shown that people who are used to playing action video games site have a less gray matter in their hippocampus. However, the weaker the hippocampus, the more likely an individual is to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or even Alzheimer’s disease.

We noticed that there was less gray matter in the hippocampus of the players. We then did two longitudinal studies to establish a causal link and we determined that it was the fact of playing video games that caused these changes in the brain.

Gregory West, professor of psychology at the Université de Montréal

The importance of the hippocampus …

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps people to orient themselves in space (spatial memory) and to remember their past experiences (episodic memory). It has already been shown that, for example, taxi drivers have a highly developed hippocampus.

Action video games

… and striatum

There is another region of great importance in the brain, the striatum. This is made up of what is called the caudate nucleus, which acts a bit like an “autopilot” and a “reward system”. It allows us to come home after work, for example and tells us when to eat. The caudate kernel also helps us build habits and remind us how to do things, like riding a bicycle.

It has been shown that the practice of video games stimulates the caudate nucleus more than the hippocampus. As a result, the hippocampus becomes less stressed, loses cells and atrophies.

“Action video game players are almost twice as likely to use their caudate nuclei or brain reward circuit (83%) as non-players (43),” explains Bohbot.

If video games of action cause gray matter decreases in the hippocampus [young adults], care must be exercised when encouraging […] children, young adults, and other adults to play for them. strengthen their cognitive skills such as short-term visual memory and visual attention.

Véronique Bohbot, Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University

The researchers explain that it is not recommended for people with certain diseases (mentioned above) to follow treatments focused on the practice of action video games.

Different games, different effects

The researchers asked participants to play first-person video games such as Call of Duty and Killzone as well as 3D games like Super Mario for 90 hours.

Their results show that each of these two types of games has a different effect on the brain.

Our studies reveal that players using the circuit of brain reward (the caudate nuclei) lost gray matter in the hippocampus after 90 hours spent playing action video games. […] In the players using their hippocampus to navigate, we found on the contrary an increase in the gray matter after the same number of hours of play.

Greg West, professor of psychology at the Université de Montréal

It has been shown that spatial learning is associated with increases in gray matter in the hippocampus during the course of the video game. “It is possible to entice players using a stimulus-response strategy to adopt spatial learning strategies to counter the negative effects on the hippocampal system,” says Greg West.

According to the authors of this work published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, video game manufacturers could change the design of their products to promote spatial learning strategies, and thus promote the maintenance of gray matter in the hippocampus.

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