Sunday, June 15, 2008

Video Games as a Mind-Altering Substance

The text Psychology Core Concepts Zimbardo, (2008) states that addiction is said to occur when a person is experiencing adverse effects (which could be physical, social, job-related, etc) but continues to use it anyway. Furthermore, they are unable to stop the activity, whether it is gambling, drinking alcohol, or using meth, despite repeated attempts to cease.

The question posed to us is whether television and other electronic media have mind altering influences, and how they affect children. Television inhibits creativity, physical activity, critical thought, and consumes vast stretches of time when the child could be learning, experiencing life, or developing positive social skills with peers (Mander). However, it has been largely superseded by video games in today’s youth, and the effects of electronic games are even more deleterious than those of television.

Drugs affect the brain by blocking or stimulating neural signals,
directly affecting and interfering with its communication
(Zimbardo, 2008). The chemicals in the drugs are what affect the
brain; however, we have already seen that altered states of
consciousness can result without chemicals, for example hypnosis,
meditation and the stages of sleep. Researchers found that playing
video games also alter the brain chemistry. Green and Bavelier
stated: “most drugs of addiction produce pleasure by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. Using a form of brain imaging (PET) the researchers were able to determine whether playing a video game increased the amount of dopamine released by the brain. A massive increase in the amount of dopamine released in the brain was indeed observed during video game play, in particular in areas thought to control reward and learning. The level of increase was remarkable, being comparable to that observed when amphetamines are injected intravenously. “

Drug abuse typically entails physical side effects such as reduced
or enhanced appetite, impaired motor function, organ damage, and
the possibility of convulsions or death over the long term.
Video games have their own array of physical symptoms as well. An AMA report details incidence of light induced epileptic seizures and musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities. A study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia revealed a higher incidence of childhood obesity in kids who play electronic games, sometimes twice as high in comparison to youth who did not use video games.

Perhaps the most alarming finding regarding video games is that long term gaming is associated with neurological differences in the brains of frequent players. Rene’ Weber, assistant professor at MSU, conducted a study on violent video games and found that playing the games resulted in brain activity typical of aggressive cognitions, behavior, and affects (Science Daily, Oct. 12, 2005). Other studies have found that exposure to violence in video games was associated with reduced activity in the frontal lobes, stimulation of the amygdala, and activation of the posterior cingulate, a finding usually seen in rape victims and people with PTSD (Shari Rudavsky, 2004). A study by The University of Michigan found a higher correlation between media violence and aggression than secondhand smoke and lung cancer (Swanbrow).

One commonality between the studies quoted is that when age is included as a factor, children fare worse; i.e. they are more likely to show brain changes. There is quite a bit of debate over how lasting the effects are. Based on my personal experience with video game enthusiasts, most of them started playing before their teens and many are still playing well into their thirties and forties. It seems that sustained playing of that nature could impact the brain in very negative ways, particularly if the games are blood and gore types. Considering the nature of the risk in comparison to the biological, physical, emotional, and financial investment incurred in raising children (not to mention time!), it is probably prudent to disallow children exposure to video games, or at least to allow only very limited time on non-violent games, alternated with plenty of physical activity and creative endeavors.


The cognitive neuroscience of video games
C. Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier, 2004.

Mander, Jerry, Four arguments for the Elimination of Television (1977).

AMA, "Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Video Games and Internet Overuse" (2007).
AMA article

Childrens Hospital Of Philadelphia. "Electronic Game Use Is Associated With Childhood Obesity." Science Daily 1 July 2004. Science Daily

Michigan State University. "Violent Video Games Lead To Brain Activity Characteristic Of Aggression." Science Daily 12 October 2005. Science Daily

Rudavsky, Shari. “Video game violence and the brain”
November 14, 2004
Temple edu

Swanbrow, Diane. “Reel Violence. U-M research seeks the seeds of violence” University of Michigan Research News.
U Mich News

Zimbardo, Philip. Psychology Core Concepts, 2008.

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