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This type of video game may damage brain health

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 09/08/2017 Jenny Cook

Violent video games may damage brain health, study shows © Pekic / Getty Violent video games may damage brain health, study shows Many people play video games as a form of relaxation but new research suggests that this particular pastime may actually be detrimental to the brain, damaging memory and increasing dementia risk.

Findings from a new study showed that playing "shooter" games, such as the popular Call of Duty, reduced the amount of grey matter in the hippocampus – the part of the brain that is responsible for episodic recall and orientation.

The study

Researchers in Canada recruited a small sample of 51 men and 46 women – some of whom were habitual gamers and some of whom were not – and asked them to play a variety of action games, including (but not limited to) Call of Duty, Killzone and Borderlands 2 as well as some non-violent 3D games (such as Super Mario) for a total of 90 hours.

Upon scanning the participants' brains, it became clear that the action games tended to weaken the hippocampus, while the 3D challenges – which rely more on spatial orientation and instinct – had the opposite effect. As a possible explanation for this, Gregory West – associate professor of psychology at the Université de Montréal and lead author – thinks that the inclusion of GPS and way-finding markers in the majority of action games could be to blame. He said:

"These type of markers, we hypothesise, encourage people to ignore landmarks and follow routes that recruit and rely on the brain's rewards system."

Essentially, this means we allow our brains to go into 'autopilot' whilst playing. West added:

"People with reduced grey matter in the hippocampus are more at risk for developing PTSD and depression when they're younger and even Alzheimer's disease when they're older."

However, the good news is that grey matter damage is not necessarily permanent, and the researchers say that 3D platform games could be used as a kind of antidote to the negative effect of their 'shooter' counterparts."It's certainly possible that someone could pick up a 3D platform game and train their brain to grow that grey matter back," says West.

Other research

The question of how gaming is affecting our brains is not new, and has proved a controversial topic over recent decades. Indeed, video games have previously been shown to benefit certain cognitive systems in the brain – most of which relate to visual and short-term memory – which is perhaps why some experts have dismissed the latest findings. Speaking to The Mirror, Professor Andrew Przybylski of Oxford University insisted that the study lacked statistical power. He said:

"The hypotheses tested do not relate to harm and the paper does not provide evidence that 90 hours of play, the 'treatment', leads to harm. Thus the interpretation of harm, although attention-grabbing, was not peer-reviewed and appears to have been introduced afterwards. This framing is a worrying over-reach that could mislead readers."

Either way, it seems clear that more research needs to be done before any concrete conclusions can be made. In the meantime, the authors recommend that medical experts exert 'caution' when prescribing video gameplay to improve cognition.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Related: Mental Health: Top facts from mental health charity Mind (provided by International Business Times)

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