[Paleopsych] NS: Do games prime brain for violence?
checker at panix.com
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
Institute of Neurology, University College London
Jeffrey Fagan, Columbia University Law School
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