Violent games may alter brain activity

WASHINGTON — A new study showing a link between violent videogames and potentially negative behavior in teens could be ammo for federal and state lawmakers who want to regulate vidgame sales.

Study’s findings, presented Tuesday at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual convention, showed that teens who play violent vidgames experience decreased activity in areas of the brain that control inhibition while activity in emotional-arousal areas in the brain increases.

Implication is that adolescents may not be able to control themselves after getting deeply involved with a violent vidgame.

Using MRI technology for the first time in vidgame research, study compared two groups of teens aged 13-17 with no known behavioral problems. The group given a nonviolent vidgame experienced normal brain activity.

“Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent videogame may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a nonviolent — but exciting — game,” Dr. Vincent P. Mathews, professor of radiology at Indiana U. School of Medicine in Indianapolis and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

According to Reuters, the violent game used in the study was “Medal of Honor: Frontline,” while the nonviolent game was “Need for Speed: Underground.”

At least five states have tried to ban sales of violent vidgames to minors, but courts have struck down the attempts each time, citing lack of conclusive research on the effects of such games on children. Several lawmakers — most notably, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) — have successfully called for federal funding of more research, presumably with an eye toward supporting a legislative ban.

The $13 billion gaming industry expressed confidence that the study’s findings were not really new.

“Dr. Mathews and his associate have conducted similar studies in the past,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Entertainment Merchants Assn. “The advocates of videogame restrictions have presented these studies as ‘evidence’ of the harmful effects of videogames. The courts have rejected these studies.”

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