Whether violent video games induce aggression in devotees has been debated in scientific and political arenas. Now, evidence from a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows that when young men play such games they activate parts of the brain that are associated with aggressive behavior, while shutting down those areas that support empathy.
To answer the question of how violent games affect a young person’s psyche, Klaus Mathiak of the University of Tübingen in Germany and Rene Weber of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles recruited 13 males, ages 18 to 26. All were dedicated “gamers” who played an average of 20 hours of games a week. “This is how they act in their normal life,” Mathaik says, referring to the time the subjects spent in the trial.
While lying in the MRI scanner, the subjects played a first-person shooter game. As the player entered a dangerous scenario, the researchers saw that activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) increased, while activity in the forward portion of the ACC was suppressed. Similarly, activity in the amygdala decreased during periods of violence.
Because the dorsal ACC has been associated with aggression and is involved in cognition, while the anterior ACC and the amygdala are involved in emotion, the researchers conclude that the players are learning to turn off their empathetic response to violent situations. “This is not just a game,” Mathiak concludes.