[Paleopsych] NS: Do games prime brain for violence?

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Fri Jun 24 19:56:52 UTC 2005

Do games prime brain for violence?

      * 23 June 2005
      * Alison Motluk

    YOU know that just round the corner is a man who wants to kill you.
    Your heart is pounding and your hands are sweating - even though this
    is only a video game. But what is happening in your brain?

    A small study of brain activity in video-game veterans suggests that
    their brains react as if they are treating the violence as real.

    More than 90 per cent of American children play video games every day,
    and half of the top sellers contain extreme violence. There is now
    strong evidence that people who play violent games tend to be more
    aggressive. For example, in 2000, Craig Anderson and Karen Dill at
    Iowa State University in Ames reported data showing that violent-game
    players were more likely to report high levels of aggression and to
    have committed assaults or robberies. But finding out whether it is
    the games that make them violent or the violence that attracts them to
    the games has proved much harder.

    Klaus Mathiak at the University of Aachen in Germany set out to
    discover what is happening in gamers' brains as they encounter violent
    situations. He recruited 13 men aged 18 to 26, who played video games
    for 2 hours every day on average, and asked them to play a violent
    game while having their brains scanned using magnetic resonance
    imaging (fMRI). By the time of the experiment, the volunteers were
    proficient at the game, which required them to navigate a complicated
    bunker, find and kill terrorists and try to rescue hostages.

    Mathiak analysed the game scene by scene and studied how brain
    activity changed during violent interactions. This meant that he could
    compare patterns of brain activity immediately before and during
    fights with activity at less aggressive points in the game.

    He found that as violence became imminent, the cognitive parts of the
    brain became more active. And during a fight, emotional parts of the
    brain, such as the amygdala and parts of the anterior cingulate
    cortex, were shut down. This pattern is the same as that seen in
    subjects who have had brain scans during other simulated violent
    situations such as imagining an aggressive encounter. It is impossible
    to scan people's brains during acts of real aggression so Mathiak
    argues that this is as close as you can get to the real thing. It
    suggests that video games are a "training for the brain to react with
    this pattern," he says.

    Niels Birbaumer of the University of Tübingen in Germany speculates
    that playing violent video games regularly would strengthen these
    circuits in the brain. A regular player confronted with a similar
    real-life situation, might be more primed for aggression, Birbaumer

    But Jeffrey Fagan, violence expert at Colombia University in New York
    says the link between brain activity and violence is complex:"The
    frontal lobe functions associated with violence have more to do with
    restraint than the arousal to action."


Organisation for Human Brain Mapping

Niels Birmbauer, University of Tubingen
http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/medizinischepsychologie/personal/n sbirbau.htm

Institute of Neurology, University College London

Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University Law School

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