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Do video games af­fect be­hav­iour?

Video games are likely able to af­fect the way we be­have in a num­ber of ways. For in­stance, there’s con­cern about whether vi­o­lence in games makes young peo­ple more vi­o­lent. It’s not un­com­mon for news out­lets to blame games ev­ery time a crime hap­pens, but how true is that claim?

This is con­tro­ver­sial even within the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. Yes, ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence seems to af­fect the brain, but stud­ies have also found that we’re good at dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween real and vir­tual vi­o­lence, and ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour is bet­ter ex­plained by other, mainly so­cio-eco­nomic fac­tors. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies about the ef­fects of games on the brain had been pub­lished, but all that in­for­ma­tion had not been put to­gether un­til now.

How did you re­view the re­search?

We gath­ered all sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles to date and com­pared re­sults. In to­tal, we found 116 ex­per­i­ments, the first from the 1980s. Many com­pared reg­u­lar video game play­ers with peo­ple who had never played; oth­ers trained peo­ple in a game for sev­eral weeks and stud­ied its ef­fects. Changes in the brain were mea­sured us­ing mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (MRI) or elec­troen­cephalog­ra­phy (EEG), which de­tect whether brain re­gions in­crease or re­duce in size, and how it af­fects their ac­tiv­ity.

Are games bad for the brain?

The clear­est neg­a­tive im­pact is the risk of abuse and ad­dic­tion by peo­ple with pre­dis­pos­ing per­son­al­ity traits. Video games can af­fect the re­ward cir­cuits, con­tain­ing the plea­sure cen­tres of the brain. This in turn could af­fect other brain func­tions in the frontal lobe, pos­si­bly af­fect­ing the ca­pac­ity for plan­ning, in­hibit­ing dis­trac­tions and men­tal prob­lem-solv­ing.

Games that heav­ily rely on on­line mul­ti­player modes are the most as­so­ci­ated with ad­dic­tion, due to so­cial in­ter­ac­tions be­ing more re­ward­ing than just play­ing against the com­puter.

Can games be good for you?

Since video games usu­ally dis­play in­creas­ing lev­els of dif­fi­culty, they are con­tin­u­ally chal­leng­ing our skills, mak­ing the brain per­form at 100 per cent of its ca­pac­ity, re­sult­ing in ef­fec­tive cog­ni­tive train­ing.

Var­i­ous men­tal func­tions seem to ben­e­fit from this ef­fect. Of th­ese, at­ten­tion is the most stud­ied, and its en­hance­ment al­lows us to bet­ter process

Do video games change the brain? Dif­fer­ent stud­ies have reached dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions, so Marc Palaus, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at Spain’s Univer­si­tat Oberta de Catalunya, re­viewed the re­search “VIDEO GAMES ARE CON­TIN­U­ALLY CHAL­LENG­ING OUR SKILLS, MAK­ING THE BRAIN PER­FORM AT 100 PER CENT OF ITS CA­PAC­ITY”

ABOVE: Do com­puter games make you more vi­o­lent, or just more clev­erer?

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