Updated --15 February 2005
Would you believe that computer games -- even usage -- may stunt developing brains?
Tracy McVeigh, the education editor of the Observer, noted in an article dated August 19, 2001, the fact that high tech mappings of the brain were indicating that computer games were damaging brain development and could lead players -- especially younger players -- into being unable to control violent behavior.
Holy cow! The next thing they’ll be telling us is that “It Don’t Rain in Indianapolis”! Well... actually, it does rain in Indianapolis. Acid rain, perhaps, but still... rain... sort of.
As for the computer game syndrome (CGS), Tracy, <email@example.com> writes <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4241769,00.html>:
Computer games are creating a dumbed-down generation of children far more disposed to violence than their parents, according to a controversial new study. The tendency to lose control is not due to children absorbing the aggression involved in the computer game itself, as previous researchers have suggested, but rather to the damage done by stunting the developing mind.
Using the most sophisticated technology available, the level of brain activity was measured in hundreds of teenagers playing a Nintendo game and compared to the brain scans of other students doing a simple, repetitive arithmetical exercise. To the surprise of brain-mapping expert Professor Ryuta Kawashima and his team at Tohoku University in Japan, it was found that the computer game only stimulated activity in the parts of the brain associated with vision and movement.
In contrast, arithmetic stimulated brain activity in both the left and right hemispheres of the frontal lobe -- the area of the brain most associated with learning, memory and emotion. Most worrying of all was that the frontal lobe, which continues to develop in humans until the age of about 20, also has an important role to play in keeping an individual’s behavior in check. Whenever you use self-control to refrain from lashing out or doing something you should not, the frontal lobe is hard at work.
Children often do things they shouldn’t because their frontal lobes are underdeveloped. The more work done to thicken the fibers connecting the neurons in this part of the brain, the better the child’s ability will be to control their behavior. The more this area is stimulated, the more these fibers will thicken. The students who played computer games were halting the process of brain development and affecting their ability to control potentially anti-social elements of their behavior.
“The importance of this discovery cannot be underestimated,” Kawashima told The Observer. “There is a problem we will have with a new generation of children -- who play computer games -- that we have never seen before. The implications are very serious for an increasingly violent society and these students will be doing more and more bad things if they are playing games and not doing other things like reading aloud or learning arithmetic.”
Kawashima, in need of funding for his research, originally decided to investigate the levels of brain activity in children playing video games expecting to find that his research would be a boon to manufacturers. He expected it to reassure parents that there are hidden benefits to the increasing number of hours their children were devoting to computer games and was startled by what he discovered.
He compared brain activity in children playing Nintendo games with those doing an exercise called the Kraepelin test, which involves adding single-digit numbers continuously for 30 minutes. The students were given minute doses of a radioactive pharmaceutical through an intravenous drip which allowed a computer to map a complex picture of their brains at work. A subsequent study was conducted using magnetic resonance images. Both studies confirmed the high level of brain activity involved in carrying out simple addition and subtraction and that this activity was particularly pronounced in the frontal lobe, in both the left and right hemispheres.
Though it is often thought that only the left hemisphere is active for mathematical work and that the right hemisphere is stimulated by more creative thinking, the professor found that arithmetic produced a high level of activity in both hemispheres. In subsequent studies, Kawashima established that arithmetic exercises also stimulate more brain activity than listening to music or listening to reading. Reading out loud was also found to be a very effective activity for activating the frontal lobe.
For your next exercise, please recite your multiplication tables aloud.
But before you attempt to ensure that your child plays no more computer games, consider the related aspect of the tunnel vision, the sort often associated with the computer gamer (and who obviously does not respond to you when they are so enraptured). This is the same tunnel vision associated with cell phones. Ooops.
In the latter case, please note that University of Rhode Island study of the eye-movements of automobile drivers using cell phones found such drivers to suffer from a reduced field of view (i.e. tunnel vision). Researchers used a head-mounted, eye-tracking device on volunteer drivers. They concluded that the alertness of the drivers decreased considerably whenever they were conducting different cognitive tasks -- such as calculating in one’s head, remembering a list of items, or using a cell phone.
The researchers also found that the tunnel vision caused by cell phone use continues well after the conversation ends, perhaps because the drivers may have been still thinking about the conversation. “The debate surrounding cell phone use in cars has been directed toward concerns over holding the phone,” researchers said. “Holding the phone isn’t the main issue. Thinking is.” The researchers suggest cell phone use be prohibited on roadways requiring high levels of alertness, such as on congested expressways, in poor weather, and on winding roads.
(New: 2/15/2005) And then, just to add insult to injury Visions and Psychosis has provided research in the area of "conflict of physiology" to suggest that computer use -- i.e. not just games, but even in the office and on the home computer! -- is causing yet more problems. For example, the peripheral vision reflex is being thwarted by a learned behavior to focus no matter what -- even when the peripheral vision reflex is suggesting the possibility of being attacked from the side by a saber toothed tiger. This was the reason that the infamous Cubicle arose, so that the peripheral vision could be blocked (i.e. nothing moving in that area) and thus one's instinctive reflex would not be triggered. Check out Visions and Psychosis (just be sure to scroll down about midway to read the introduction if it's your first time at the site.)
In other words, Hold the phone! No more computer games; no more cell phones! No more computers???? Yea.
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