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Online games Are Computer Games Bad for the Brain?

For some, computer games are the basic evil of modern society; for others, fun, excitement, leisure activities and useful brain training at the same time. The dispute over the influences of computer games has been going on for decades. A current study by the University of Ulm now seems to prove the critics right. She found out: Anyone who spends an hour a day playing online computer games loses brain volume - after just six weeks. The study also shows that gaming can have a negative impact on dealing with emotions and making decisions.

The observed reduction could be associated with poorer emotion regulation and decision-making. It is worrying that the structural changes in the brain were already detectable after six weeks.

Christian Monday | Ulm University

The gray cells are less

According to the study, this is due to the decrease in gray matter in the orbitofrontal cortex, an area in the brain that sits just above eye level in the front of the skull. Because it regulates human emotions, it is considered the seat of ethical and moral feeling. If this area is damaged, those affected lack a moral compass, which is why they have problems making decisions. The ability to assess one's own behavior can also be impaired.

The scientists had test subjects play the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft". At the beginning and at the end of the gaming period, the participants were then examined with a magnetic resonance tomography scan. The reason for the change in structure is the brain's ability to adapt to new circumstances. When learning to play musical instruments, for example, areas of the brain that are responsible for the motor skills of the hands change. And in online games, according to the researchers, there are apparently fewer gray cells. Scientists speak of neuroplastic processes.

Cause or consequence of computer game addiction?

During the study, the participants were divided into different groups: gaming professionals and gaming novices. The MRI scans of newcomers to computer games were compared with the results of long-term gamers right at the start. Experienced gamers had a lower volume in the relevant brain area from the start. They also showed higher addiction tendencies. It is now unclear whether the reduced brain volume is a consequence or possibly a prerequisite for computer game addiction. The online role-playing game "World of Warcraft" was used for the study because it is one of the best-known and most widely used online games. Critics also associate it with computer game addiction.

The positive effects of gaming

A study by the Hannover Medical School, which was published in March of this year, came to completely different results: no difference could be found between gamers and non-gamers. The subjects were shown pictures that challenge compassion. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire and asked how they felt about it. A brain scan was also made here. The results of the players were no different from non-players. Accordingly, gamers are just as empathetic as other people. And violence in games, as the managing director of the German Cultural Council Olaf Zimmermann stated in August of this year, is "an important motive for action", comparable to violence "in novels, films and the visual arts". Computer games, according to Zimmermann, are therefore a cultural asset.

Some of the pearls among computer games are even works of art.

Olaf Zimmermann, German Cultural Council

It wasn't until September that scientists showed the positive effects of gaming. Those who play regularly are better at grasping situations quickly, generating new knowledge and dividing what they have learned into categories. The reason for this is increased activity in the hippocampus, an area that is important for learning and that may be trained through computer games. Certain games could therefore be used in the fight against dementia. With the latest results, the science controversy over the influence of computer games seems to be going to the next level.

Sputniker at work | 11/15/2017 | 12:50 p.m.