Violent Video Games Linked to Aggression, Diminished Cognitive Function

Deborah Brauser

June 03, 2010

June 3, 2010 (New Orleans, Louisiana) — Male players of violent video games, particularly first person shooter games (FPSG), have more feelings of aggression than nonplayers, according to a small study from German researchers presented at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2010 Annual Meeting.

According to investigators, although significant brain activity differences were found between the groups during both cognitive motor activity and resting periods, high activity in thedefault-mode network (DMN) for the FPSG group "indicated reduced cognitive activity during resting periods compared to the controls."

"Recent research [has shown] good evidence suggesting that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, but little is known about the influence of the games on brain activity — especially on brain functioning at a resting state," said study investigator Gregor R. Szycik, PhD, with Hannover Medical School in Germany.

Dr. Gregor Szycik

"The frontal increase in the DMN that we found may indicate executive dysfunctions of FPSG users having influence on the high scores in their aggression questionnaires," Dr. Szycik added.

Gaming Concerns

In this study, the researchers examined the possible impact of FPSG "on morphological and functional structure of the brain and its relation to processing cognitive tasks," Dr. Szycik told Medscape Psychiatry.

"There's a great interest in Germany about young people who play these games and how it might affect them in school and other places. At [our center], we get more and more calls from parents about whether this is something they need to worry about and if it promotes aggressive behavior," he said.

A total of 28 men were enrolled and split into 2 groups for this trial. The FPSG group included 14 men (mean age, 25 years) who played the game Counter Strike for a median of 5 hours daily, whereas the control group had 14 men (mean age, 23 years) who did not play any type of violent videogames.

All participants then completed the FAF, a German questionnaire on aggression, and the Interpersonal-Reactivity Index, and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while in a relaxed state and with closed eyes.

Significant Impact on Brain Activity

Results showed that the FPSG players showed significantly higher levels of felt aggression, as shown in higher FAF scores, than did those in the control group (P < .05).

"We also found that the individual extent of the clusters during the fMRI brain analysis correlated positively with the impulsiveness [ratio = 0.394] and the self aggression [ratio = 0.533] scale of the FAF," said Dr. Szycik.

"The bottom line from our study is that extended use of violent games have impact on brain activity," he added.

Dr. Szycik reported that his team has just finished a new multinational study focusing on empathy and emotional cognition in those that play violent video games. "We look forward to presenting these results to add to the knowledge base for this subject area."

An Important Starting Place

"Analysis of the gaming industry and its effect on human behavior is fascinating and is something that everyone, from scientists to clinicians to the public, can relate to," cochair of the APA Scientific Program Committee Don Hilty, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California–Davis in Sacramento, told Medscape Psychiatry. Dr. Hilty was not involved in this study.

"We need more research in this area. So the novelty of this analysis was appealing," he added. "It was a preliminary study with a small sample size, but I would say it's an important start to analyzing this important topic."

He noted that the 2 main findings are that "high users of these games felt more high levels of aggression than the controls and that they had diminished function cognitively during their resting periods."

"It's important to keep this in mind for our day to day lives," said Dr. Hilty. "If we do any 1 thing to extreme, whether it's eating 1 certain food or drinking alcohol or perhaps playing video games, then the down times may not be quite the same as they ordinarily would."

"Overall, this is a great starting place but [the investigators] will have to measure different groups and a few other, different parts of the brain to see how all the parts work together. But it's a novel approach and a worthwhile study to consider," Dr. Hilty concluded.

This study was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and by TUI Research. Dr. Szycik and Dr. Hilty have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2010 Annual Meeting: Poster Abstract NR3-12. Presented May 24, 2010.


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