The study randomly assigned 44 adolescents to play either a violent video game or a nonviolent but equally fun and exciting video game for 30 minutes. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain function immediately following the play time, researchers documented differences in brain function between the video game groups. Adolescents who had played violent video games exhibited more brain activity in a region thought to be important for emotional arousal and less activity in a brain region associated with executive functions. Executive functions are the ability to plan, shift, control and direct one's thoughts and behavior.
"Our study indicates that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing an exciting but nonviolent game," said Vincent P. Mathews, M.D., professor of radiology at the IU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study.
The group that played the nonviolent game exhibited more activation in the prefrontal portions of the brain, which are involved in inhibition, concentration and self-control. They also showed less activation in the area involved in emotional arousal.
"This data differs from our earlier studies because in this study adolescents were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent game," said William Kronenberger, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine. "Therefore, we can attribute the difference between the groups specifically to the type of game played. Earlier studies showed a correlation between media violence exposure and brain functioning, but we did not actually manipulate the teens' exposure to media violence in those earlier studies."
Using fMRI, the researchers have been studying the effects of media violence and brain function in adolescents for several years. Future studies to better understand the duration and meaning of the relationship between media violence exposure and brain function are planned.
Other IU medical school scientists who were co-authors of the research are Yang Wang, M.D., Andrew J. Kalnin, M.D., Kristine M. Mosier, D.M.D., Ph.D., and David W. Dunn, M.D.