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Playing violent video games may be bad for the brain

Playing violent video games may be bad for the brain

Violent 'shooter' games could put certain users at greater risk of developing brain issues such as depression and Alzheimer's disease, research claims.

A team from the University of Montreal monitored around 100 people while they played gun-based games such as Killzone, Call of Duty and Borderlands 2, along with tame Super Mario games, for 90 hours.

It was discovered that those who tuned into violent, action games had fewer neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain, which controls spatial memory, episodic memory based on past experiences and helps us navigate. Meanwhile, the Super Mario games showed higher levels of grey matter in their brains, which is vital for aspects such as muscle control, memory, emotions and sensory perception.

Lead scientist Dr. Greg West, from the University of Montreal in Canada, noted that these findings go against previous claims that video games benefit particular cognitive systems in the brain.

"There is also behavioural evidence that there might be a cost to that, in terms of the impact on the hippocampus," he said of the results. "That's why we decided to do a full neuro-imaging study, scanning the brains of habitual players of action video games and comparing them to non-players, and what we saw was less grey matter in the hippocampus of habitual players.

"We then followed that up with two longitudinal studies to establish causality, and we found that it was indeed the gaming that led to changes in the brain."

Brain scans following the recent experiment found that after playing action games for 90 hours, people's grey matter decreased, though the same amount of time playing the non-violent options increased the matter in the hippocampus area for all subjects.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, from Oxford University, pointed out that the research lacked statistical power though and does not confirm 90 hours of playing such games 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"Thus, the interpretation of harm, although attention-grabbing, was not peer-reviewed and appears to have been introduced afterwards.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," he warned.

Results of the study are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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