Journal scan

Video games can shrink or enlarge brain

Playing violent video games causes the brain to shrink, but it might be possible to reverse the effect by playing puzzle games, according to researchers.

Playing violent video games causes the brain to shrink, but it might be possible to reverse the effect by playing puzzle games, according to researchers

video
Research volunteers who played violent games had a ‘statistically significant’
reduction in grey matter. Picture: iStock

Playing violent video games causes the brain to shrink, while puzzle games have the opposite effect, a small study suggests.

A total of 97 people of university age in Montreal, Canada, took part in three linked studies over four years designed to test how grey matter in the hippocampus area of the brain responds to various stimuli.

Participants were asked to complete a virtual maze on a computer to enable the researchers to identify response learners and spatial learners. Brain scans were then conducted before they were divided into two groups.

One group played first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty for a total of 90 hours, while the others played 3D platform games such as Super Mario.

More at risk

Further brains scans were then carried out and showed that those who played the violent games had a ‘statistically significant’ reduction in grey matter.

The opposite effect occurred in spatial learners playing the platform games.

Writing in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, lead author Gregory West said: ‘People with reduced grey matter in the hippocampus are more at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when they're younger and even Alzheimer's disease when they're older.

‘It's certainly possible that someone could pick up a 3D platform game and train their brain to grow that grey matter back.’


G West et al (2017) Impact of video games on plasticity of the hippocampus. Molecular Psychiatry. doi.10.1038/mp.2017.155

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