How Violent Media Affects the Brain

The blank look on a teen's face when watching a game like "WWF Smackdown" might be a reflection of what's going on in his brain and a warning sign of things to come.

Indeed, for several years child psychologists have been warning parents about the dangers of repeated exposure to violent video games. Now, there may be medical evidence to back their claims.

Researchers in Indiana have measured the effects on a brain scan. The study's principal investigator, Dr. Vincent Mathews, said prolonged exposure to violence actually affects brain function and behavior.

"The parts of the brain we looked at are the frontal lobes the areas of the brain that are involved in emotional control, inhibition of behavior and that sort of thing," Mathews said. "The idea is that those parts of the brain don't work as well (after prolonged exposure to violence), and because of that they don't control their behavior as well."

Given an adolescent's natural hormonal mood swings, adding a steady diet of violence is like pouring gasoline on a fire, according to Dr. David Walsh, of the National Institute on Media and the Family.

"There are two things going on," Walsh said. "One is the anger is getting amplified by the ... repetitious acts of violence in the game; then at the same time the buffer to that is less active."

He said the content of most popular games today has no positive value and might shock most parents.

"What good could possibly come from having a 15-year-old spend hours and hours and hours decapitating people and organizing drug rings and murdering prostitutes?" Walsh asked.

More than two-thirds of all children live in a home with a video game system.

To find out more about the study, see the Web site for the Indiana University School of Medicine.

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