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Jun 26, 2005 | For years the evidence has been mounting that children and adolescents with aggressive tendencies are susceptible to the increasingly violent images in video games and on television. Less than two weeks ago a new study even suggested that these extremely violent images may also be damaging the brains of youths who are non-aggressive, well-behaved, and ordinary. (See for June 13)

That study, found “that individuals in the control group with high media violence exposure showed a brain activation pattern similar to the pattern of the aggressive group.” In the teenagers tested, the part of the brain involved in decision-making and self control was impaired by exposure to violent scenes.

The same effect was seen in both the group with a history of violent and disruptive behavior and the ordinary, well-behaved individuals. The researchers agreed that any association found to exist between exposure to media violence and brain functioning should be taken seriously.

Now, a team from the University of Aachen, Germany, has taken the research one step further by comparing the type of brain responses generated while playing violent video games to those triggered during acts of real aggression and while imagining violent behavior.  

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping in Toronto, Canada, monitored the brain activity of 13 men while playing a violent video game that required them to kill terrorists among other things.

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans detailed how brain activity changed during violent and calm segments of the game. When violence was imminent, the information processing parts of the brain became more active.

When a fight scene was in progress, the parts of the brain which deal with emotion were shut down. This is precisely the pattern exhibited in MRI scans of people during acts of real aggression. Brain mapping scans also showed the same kind of activity as when people are imagining themselves being violent.

At least one proponent of the study suggested that regular exposure to violent video games may strengthen certain “circuits” in the brain so that a player faced with a real life violent situation might be more likely to react aggressively.

Critics of the theory see the link between the brain and violence as a complex one. The study does not explain why the same reactions are not triggered by violent films. In addition, Dr. Guy Cumberbatch of the Independent Communications Research Group (UK) stated: “The instinct to punch someone in the nose is pretty basic. I don’t think it is influenced in any way by playing these games.

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