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Video Games and What's Going On In Your Child's Brain

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By John E. Carey
December 29, 2006

We sat down to research all the information on video games and their positive and negative impact on the developing minds of our children and we have this: no conclusion.

The reasons are many. First, the video gaming industry is now a powerful economic force on a par with Hollywood's mighty movie industry. This means that the industry employs a lot of people, pays investors a lot in dividends and it pumps out information that may or may not be propaganda. In fact, it is difficult to find fact from fiction when researching the video gaming industry. We recommend that careful sleuths determine who funded the study or report du jour before trumpeting the good or evil found therein.

Second, there is a well documented generational divide between youngsters that play video games (almost all of whom are under the age of forty) and those severely impaired by age like me (I'm darned near 52!). Actually, because I played life and death video games for 20 continuous years while I was in the U.S. Navy, putting simulated torpedoes into enemy submarines or shooting down computer generated hostile aircraft and missiles, I largely recuse myself from the "normal" anti-video-game over 40 crowd.

So let's just consider this a preliminary finding of fact, as far as we can determine, on video gaming.

In November, 2006, the University of Indiana completed an interesting study on the parts of the human brain most engaged while playing activity-based or violent video games.

The men and women, doctors all, who conducted this study are trying to determine what goes on in the adolescent mind while the player is participating in a video game.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain function, the Medical School of IU found that adolescents who had played violent video games exhibited more brain activity in a region thought to be important for emotional arousal and less activity in a brain region associated with executive functions. Executive functions are those activities that support the ability to plan, shift, control and direct one's thoughts, ideas and behavior. Call this the "self behavior and thought" part of the brain.

"Our study indicates that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing an exciting but nonviolent game," principal study investigator Dr. Vincent Mathews said.

The group that played the nonviolent game exhibited more mental stimulation or activation in the prefrontal portions of the brain. The prefrontal lobes are believed to control inhibition, concentration and self-control. The non-violent game players also showed less activation in the area involved in emotional arousal.

"This data differs from our earlier studies because in this study adolescents were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent game," said William Kronenberger, associate professor of psychology at the IUSM Department of Psychiatry. "Therefore, we can attribute the difference between the groups specifically to the type of game played. Earlier studies showed a correlation between media violence exposure and brain functioning, but we did not actually manipulate the teens' exposure to media violence in those earlier studies."

Future studies to better understand the duration and meaning of the relationship between media violence exposure and brain function are planned.

We have a raft of questions like "What exactly constitutes a violent video game?" We are sure the video game industry will lead the way in defining this hot topic so as not to impede sales.

So parents beware: what we do know is that while playing violent video games a lot is going on in your child's arousal part of his or her brain while the "thought" section of the brain is, well, turned off. Sounds a little like what drugs and alcohol do for the brain. Other than that, have a ball!

We'll leave smart readers to form their own conclusions on this and we highly recommend searching the internet using your favorite system for more information.

We seek your learned input on this. Personal attacks and vulgraities, as is my normal rule, will be ignored and not commened upon. We are seeking to learn here not to engage on gladatorial combat. Save that for another writer, please.

And we promise to continue our own research and to report back to you in due time on this web site.
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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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