Video games linked to brain damage: study

Video games can have a negative impact on the brain, says a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry.

For years we’ve been told that concern over the impact of shooting games is unfounded.  Scientists have in fact said that action video game players exhibit better visual ability, motor control, and short-term memory than non players. A new study, however, says that, sure, that may be true, but certain games also have the potential to deplete the hippocampus. And depleting the hippocampus is bad as it can lead to dementia-related illnesses, among other things.

According to a media release, in a series of studies Véronique Bohbot of McGill University and Greg West of the University of Montreal demonstrate that the manner in which players navigate first-person shooter games has an impact on the nervous system that can result in loss of grey matter.

Sixty-four participants between 18 and 30 years old, were recruited to play 90 hours of different types of video games: first-person shooters like Call of Duty, Killzone, Medal of Honor and, Borderlands 2, or 3D-platform games like Super Mario 64. None of the participants had ever played before.

“Thanks to navigation tests and brain scans, our studies show that response learners, those players using their brain’s autopilot and reward system to navigate, experienced grey matter loss in their hippocampus after playing action video games for 90 hours. The hippocampus is the key structure involved in spatial memory (orientation) and episodic memory (autobiographical events) within the brain. On the contrary, spatial learners, those using their hippocampus to navigate, increased their grey matter after playing for the same amount of time,” said Greg West in the release.

This only applied to the first person shooter games. Playing 3D-platform games actually increased grey matter in the hippocampal memory system, no matter how they learned.

“The same amount of screen time with 3D-platform games caused only increases within this system across all participants.”

Interestingly, Veronique Bohbot says that action video game players are nearly twice as prone to be categorized as response learners (83%) compared to non-video game players (43%).

“This matters a lot when you know how important the hippocampus is for a healthy cognition,” she says.

Lower amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus are correlated with increased risk of neuropsychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD and Alzheimer’s disease.

This is the sort of thing that’s going to matter to those in the wellness industry in the future as we move further into more integrated health and wellness offerings, and as spas and wellness destinations become purveyors of preventative therapies.

I don’t believe that’s the only impact of these games either. Violence, whether real or fictional, is understood to have an impact on those who witness it. This can be either in the form of trauma or desensitization, neither of which is ideal. Anecdotally, I personally find violent imagery to be immensely disturbing both psychologically and physically. It affects my mental wellbeing, my sleep, and my stress levels. It’s a stress that I can feel in my breathing, in my skin prickling, and in my increasing heartrate and pricking skin. It’s why I can’t watch Game of Thrones with the rest of the world. It’s too stressful. (Well, that and we cancelled our cable. I’m not going to keep it just for HBO.)

Other factors that have been associated with shrinking the hippocampus include stress, anxiety, depression, and obesity.

Factors that have been demonstrated to increase the hippocampus include exercise, yoga, and mindfulness meditation.

Another factor in Alzheimer’s disease is genetics. In our report on the Spa of the Future, we discuss with futurist James Canton how consumer genomics in the spa industry may play a big part in such things as Alzheimer’s prevention.


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(Image: Copyright: georgerudy / 123RF Stock Photo)

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