Guys’ brains change after violent gaming

INDIANA U. (US) — After playing violent video games for one week, young adult men showed signs of sustained changes in a region of the brain associated with emotional control, a new study shows.

This is the first time researchers at Indiana University—a group that has studied the effects of media violence for more than a decade—have conducted an experimental study that showed a direct relationship between playing violent video games over an extended period of time and a subsequent change in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control.

The controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to players has been debated for many years, even making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010. There has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect.

Functional magnetic resonance images of the two groups of study participants. (Credit: Indiana University)

“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home,” says Yang Wang, assistant research professor of radiology and imaging sciences. “The affected brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”

For the study, 28 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games were randomly assigned to two groups of 14. Members of the first group were instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours at home for one week and refrain from playing the following week. The second group did not play a video game at all during the two-week period.

Each of the 28 men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks. During fMRI, the participants completed an emotional interference task, pressing buttons according to the color of visually presented words.

Words indicating violent actions were interspersed among nonviolent action words. In addition, the participants completed a cognitive inhibition counting task. These tasks, called Stroop tasks, test an individual’s ability to control cognitive flexibility and attention.

The results showed that after one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional Stroop task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting Stroop task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week.

After the video game group refrained from game play for an additional week, the changes to the executive regions of the brain returned closer to the control group, say the researchers, who presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

“These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning,” says Wang. “These effects may translate into behavioral changes over longer periods of game play.”

Wang says that another important point of the study was that the young men were supplied with laptop computers and played at home in their “natural environment.” Some of the previous research was done with players participating in a lab setting.

The research is supported by the Center for Successful Parenting.

More news from Indiana University: http://www.indiana.edu/news/

chat18 Comments


  1. CoTechGirl

    I would love to know more information about whether this study controlled for environmental factors associated with the activity – for example, did both groups – the gamers and the non-gamers — spend the same amount of time on other activities, in the company of other people, or were the gamers more isolated? How do we know that it’s not isolation or lack of social interaction that caused the brain changes?

  2. limulus

    So one group played violent video games, but the other group played no video games whatsoever. Shouldn’t the control group have played non-violent video games if the purpose of this study was to determine if the violence has long term affects? It seems entirely plausible to me that any video game playing could have the same results.

    Frankly, the headline for this Futurity article should not be “Guys’ brains change after violent gaming”, but more simply “Playing video games changes brain”.

    Also, this article states that the study was supported by the Center for Successful Parenting. If you visit their website, it’s rather clear that the findings do nothing to contradict their worldview. Funny how that can happen.

  3. Brendan

    There are three major flaws with this article. First, the article does not state in any clear terms what this change indicates, only that there is a change. Does this mean the individuals are less sensitive to violence? Does it mean they’re more apathetic? Does it mean they’re more relaxed? You could perform a similar test for drugs and say “these tests indicate a change in brain function”, but what does the change mean?

    Secondly, “long-term” is very relative here. Two weeks? Who’s to say that this effect isn’t temporary. Perhaps a few months from now, their brain function will return to normal.

    Lastly, there are too many variables to take into account. The age range is at an extremely crucial and often times life-changing point in these young men’s lives. Perhaps some of them are working, some are in sports, some may be suffering emotional distress, some may be working, some may be getting married, some may have just recently moved out of their parents’ house, some may have recently gotten kids. All of these things could trigger a difference in response to emotional situations. Even then, the test clearly states that the group who didn’t play violent video games didn’t play video games at all. Could this response be to games in general? They need a better control on this experiment.

  4. anonymous

    “The second group did not play a video game at all during the two-week period.”


    let me do a study on fast food. one group will eat only McDonalds for 30 days, consuming 3000 calories per day. Control group will only eat a healthy diet plan. after 30 days the first group gets fatter. I draw the conclusion that eating McDonalds will make you fat. Eating burger king however, does not.

  5. anonymous jr

    ^THANK YOU Mr or Mrs Anonymous on Dec 7, 2011!!! THANK YOU times a billion. I came here to post that same question.

  6. Doug

    Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s fun to read the gamers “deny, deny, deny” — maybe they’d be less aggressive if they stopped playing Call of Duty, no, wait, that can’t be right.

  7. caveat bettor

    Perhaps victimless, job-creating, technology-furthering brain changes are better than old-fashioned violence. Let’s not throw out the babies with the bath water.

  8. David

    @Doug It’s fun to read the typical anti-gamer comment making personal attacks on gamers instead of making any response to the contents of their arguments: why was there no control group playing non-violent games, what conclusions can possibly be drawn from such a small study, how were other environmental factors controlled for, is there any evidence that the observed changes are long term?

  9. Steffan

    I think, this is just a beginning of a research, like the Hertz Oscillator experiment. Some here made a good point about the activity of the control group, but let me ask one questions. Are there any good non-violent games?
    Most stuff is just about fighting etc. If not, you need to play Sudoku or Farmville.

  10. anonymous

    both anonymous posters from dec. 7 are wrong. the study found that if you play video games, there is a brain change. thus, if A (violent video games), then B (brain change). anonymous posters have stated that the article suggests that if not A (not violent video games), then not B (no brain change) (or, if not McDonald’s, then no weight gain). however, that is simply a logical fallacy.

    If A, then B —> the only correct statement that can be drawn from this is that if not B, then not A. “If not A, then not B” is just incorrect. consult any basic logic textbook. further, the article neither states nor implies this in any way.

  11. anon3

    So, my brain feels changed by the whole conversation. Saw an article the other day stating 1st person game players can do faster moving pattern recognition than Farmville players.

  12. Jill

    to caveat bettor
    “Perhaps victimless, job-creating, technology-furthering brain changes are better than old-fashioned violence. Let’s not throw out the babies with the bath water.”
    What about testing soldiers after their first week in actual combat. Do you think there would be the same changes?

  13. caveat bettor

    @Jill: I know several friends serving on active duty, and many more veterans, including a SEAL operative who served in the Vietnam conflict. Yes, combat unfortunately is deeply transformative, and the changes go beyond the brain. I’m not sure that combat is avoidable, though. Conflict is inevitable, and some conflict results in combat, unfortunately.

    I’m a big fan of NFL football, which promotes risky, violent activity. But I think the Detriot Lions devouring the New Orleans Saints in the Coliseum is a step up from what was happening back in the Roman empire.

    I think men and women continue to value social status, which means that they will value violence as much as it enhances status. Hopefully, violence can continue to trend towards zero; I have my doubts it will ever get there.

    Peace on earth; good will towards all.

  14. person

    I think games like halo or star wars battlefront are not bad for your brain. Games like call for duty on the other hand, have you kill innocent people and has lots of blood and gore. I don’t think killing droids or clones or aliens is very violent. They are all made for war, driods don’t have lives, clones are just duplicates who were created to die, and the aliens are actually evil and if you didn’t kill them, they would kill you.
    I hope some people get my point. I truly beleive it matters who your killing, and if it shows gore, pain, blood, agony or sadness. If you played a game were you were a terrorist, slaughtering innocent people and anyone you see, that is way different than battling in armour, created to die and saving the galaxy from evil by killing driods who have no lives or aliens.

  15. Darren

    is this a primary source?

  16. sette bianchi

    Violent games have an impact on players, believe it or not.

    This research may have week points but is nevertheless interesting and take us a step closer to understand the implication of videogaming.

    I will use some of the article content on my blog http://www.online-fps.com/ if you don’t mind.

  17. tech.turbu-rpg.com

    When someone writes an article he/she keeps the idea of a user in his/her brain that
    how a user can be aware of it. So that’s why this post
    is amazing. Thanks!

  18. Sido

    So I thought, let’s go through the comments and see if anyone else noticed that the testing was done only on men. Why? Why not, indeed, two test groups to see if there were a difference. Or if not interested, why was the choice of males only not owned, as is the usual necessity of claiming all specificities in a test, what makes it interesting and valid in fact. A couple of people here have inserted the assumption of gener equality to balance out the language. But noone yet has called the shots on the assumption that only tests on young men ARE interesting, normal that the group was not mixed, or that the two sexes be regarded for their differences. That is a problem. A major one. and two, obviously we create our world and our choice of actions based on the images we choose to see that world with, why language is so important, as it presents specific images to interpret the world in, images that change with each new language, the social customs changing right along with the linguistic subtleties. Of course, exciting through violent actions and words, vs through creating and experienceng the success of life giving choices is going to make an enormous difference in the individuals subsequent choices, including WHERE they will choose to interpret any random experience in their panoply of mind “places”, which become brain areas. Interesting that here approached directly as to brain firing.

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