Certain types of video games are affecting your brain

Sep 23, 2017

The effect of video games on the brain has been a long debated topic. One recent study shows that first and third person shooter games like “Call of Duty” have a different effect on your brain than games like “Super Mario Brothers.”

Dr. Gregory West, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Montreal joins us to discuss the study and the effects gaming may have on your brain.

The hippocampus is the part of your brain that is responsible for healthy cognition as well as your spatial and episodic memory. This area of the brain can be affected by the type of video game you play. In a new study, researchers found that some games can shrink the gray matter or cells in your hippocampus. A lack of gray matter can lead to problems as you get older.

“Then we’re more prone for certain disorders including depression and even PTSD in the face of a traumatic event,” says West. "And when we’re older we have less gray matter in this structure we’re more at risk for certain types [of] dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study

The study compared people who played first or third person shooter video games for an average of 19 hours a week to people who play little to no shooter games. The brain scans of people who play shooter games often show less gray matter in the hippocampus compared to the people who don’t play shooter games. 

The participants were also given a spatial memory test inside a virtual maze. This test is designed to test your hippocampus to use the environment around you to solve the maze. People with less gray matter tend to use another memory system to create an inflexible pattern through the maze called a response strategy.

"When we tested our video game, our action video game playing group, the majority of them used this response strategy that we know is associated with lower gray matter in hippocampus. This is also affecting their behavior as well," says West.

Children and long term effects

The study only looked at adults between 18 and 30 years old, yet children and teens tend to play these types of games as well. While West urges parents to monitor their children and not let them play games rated 18 and older he knows it does happen. As for now, further research is needed to determine the effects these games might have on children.

This is one of the first study to prove the impact that video games have on your brain and there are concerns that this loss of gray matter is irreversible.

"To a certain degree, gray matter that is lost can be regained. To what extent, however, remains to be determined.” says West.