Cause and Effect: A Brain Study of Video Gamers

By | November 16, 2011

European scientists have reported that playing 9 or more hours of video games per week causes changes in the brain that resemble addiction.

The issue with studies like these is that the seem setup to prove the point for which they were constructed, instead of being a test of a hypothesis.

In this case, they took one group of kids that played 9 hours or more of video games and another that played less than the nine hour mark. They put them in MRI machines and took a look at their brains. Sure enough, there were differences.

In the kids that spent the most time playing games, the study noted that the part of the brain responsible for reward or achievement had more grey matter than the other children. This make-up, the scientist purport is similar to those with addictions.

The article goes on to purport that this means that video gaming caused the change in their brains. This is where either the science or the Los Angeles Times interpretation of it is flawed.

There are two possibilities given the simple parameters described in the article. Either:

(A) The brain changed because of the gaming the individual was doing


(B) That person’s brain was always wired to be goal-oriented and video games proved a good outlet

Further in the article we learn that gamers respond similar to gambling addicts when losing:

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the team also observed changes in the kids’ brains as they participated in a task that simulated anticipating and receiving a reward. They found that frequent gamers had greater brain activity when they were given feedback that they were losing.  This is similar to a response seen in addicted gamblers, the authors noted, who have increased levels of the the brain chemical dopamine in the ventral striatum when they are losing money.

This totally ignores the idea that there are goal-oriented people that do everything they can to “win” (a.k.a. Typa A personalities) and others that are OK if they don’t win (type B). They didn’t necessarily become type A because of video games. They might have been that way since day 1 and that made games where there are winners and losers appealing. Why didn’t the study include kids who played competitive sports for 9 or more hours per week? Or played chess for extended periods?

Sure, the article and study by themselves present no problem, so why write-up the missed perspective? Perhaps because studies like these are used to implement government controls on things that were studied improperly or reported incorrectly.

This is the kind of study that will force console makers to put an “under 14″ chip in them so that anyone under the age of 14 is not allowed to play for more than 5-6 hours per week. No studies will be done to show that some people just have well-developed rewards centers and the regulation will live on in perpetuity.

This is bad science, bad reporting, or both.

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