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Study: Violent video games alter brain functions in young men

Last Updated: July 27, 2021

Lisa Eldred
Lisa Eldred

Lisa Eldred is the Educational Content Strategist at Covenant Eyes, and has 10 years of experience in researching and writing about porn addiction and recovery. She has authored numerous blog posts and ebooks, including More Than Single, Hobbies and Habits, and New Fruit, which was co-authored with Crystal Renaud Day. Her writing about faith and fandoms can be found at Love Thy Nerd.

The debate has been raging for years as to whether violent video games actually result in violent behavior. Intuitively, it seems that it would. However, researchers like Henry Jenkins* and Cheryl Olson have found few if any correlations. In fact, last June the Supreme Court struck down California’s ban of selling violent games to minors.

New research may change all of this. A study conducted by Indiana University evaluated the brain waves of young men with previously limited exposure to violent video games. In the study, 14 men aged 18-28 were asked to play 10 hours of a shooter game over the course of a week followed by a week of avoiding such games. A second group of 14 men were asked to refrain from such games for both weeks. Both groups were given a set of tasks and their brains were scanned at three points—immediately before the gaming week, immediately after the week ended, and after the second week.

The findings? At the end of the first week, parts of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control were diminished among the gaming group. (They returned to normal by the end of the second.)

So what does this mean?

First, don’t panic. This new study does not negate older studies which show low to no correlation between violent video games and actual violence among youth.

Second, this study may pave the way for other studies about the potential for learning and development through other games. (If a violent game like Bioshock results in diminished emotional control, for example, it’s possible that a puzzle game like Portal 2 could result in increased problem solving abilities.)

Finally, it serves as a reminder that we ought to be discriminating in the games we choose to play, as well as the ones we allow our kids to play. If nothing else, this serves as a scientific reminder that “everything in moderation” is still a good policy.

For more information about the potential pitfalls of video games, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our series in Pure Minds Online, “Not Just Child’s Play.”