Violent video games might be harmful to brains, study says


"There's evidence that stimulation of the caudate nucleus can directly inhibit the hippocampus, especially under stress", said West, explaining that the caudate nucleus has evolved to work efficiently under pressure, even the self-inflicted stress of a video game.

While prior research had shown a relationship between playing video games and increased hand-eye coordination and other cognitive functions, study lead author Greg West said it appears that when it comes to action games, there's a tradeoff. Because in many cases, gaming can do more harm than good.

Researchers found that the problem is that the more the people use caudate nucleus, the less they use the hippocampus, and as a result the hippocampus loses cells and atrophies.The team recruited close to 100 people (51 men, 46 women) and got them to come in and play a variety of popular shootergames like Call of Duty, Killzone and Borderlands 2, as well as three-dimensional games from the Super Mario series, for a total of 90 hours. He and his colleagues used computer analysis to study MRI brain scans of action video gamers and found a significant reduction in grey matter - related studies show a 2 percent shrinkage - in key regions of the hippocampus.

In a healthy adult brain, there should be an equal amount of grey matter in the hippocampus and the caudate nucleus. The findings don't apply to all kinds of action video games, though. The more depleted the hippocampus becomes, the more a person is at risk of developing brain illnesses and diseases ranging from depression to schizophrenia, PTSD and Alzheimer's disease.

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Neuroscientists should think twice before getting patients to play video games as a way to boost their brain power, a new study conducted at Université de Montréal suggests. Why?

In their current state, first-person shooters easily allow players "to navigate with a response-route-following strategy without relying on the relationships between landmarks, fundamental to the spatial strategy". Response learners, in turn, tend to have more grey matter in their caudate nucleus.

Once their learning strategy was established, participants then began playing the action and 3-D-platform video games. And that same subgroup that tested as response learners showed a distinct loss in hippocampal grey matter, similar to results from habitual action gamers. Response learners can be likened to the twitch gamer who navigates through an environment based on input memory. Instead of simply following a path from pure memory, they look out for cues that remind them where to go next. Contrary, a response learner uses counting, patterning, and memorizing a series of steps to find their target along the way. After receiving training, there was an increase in the grey matter of those participants who used hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies. Before the experiment, each participant was interviewed about the strategies they use to navigate in order to learn whether or not they were spatial learners or response learners. According to West, action games designed without Global Positioning System or way finding routes might better encourage spatial learning because these would encourage hippocampus-dependent navigation.