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Excessive Gaming Can Physically Rewire Young Brains

Brain functions like behavior, emotions, and even motor control can become underdeveloped from excessive gaming.

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By Victoria Kim

06/26/14

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Too much video-gaming can physically rewire the brain, according to a new article in the latest issue of the journal Neurology Now.

While the negative impact of video games is nothing new, many researchers believe that excessive gaming before age 21 or 22 can cause significant changes to the brain. As far back as the early 1990s, scientists have warned that because video games only stimulate brain regions that control vision and movement, other parts of the mind responsible for behavior, emotion, and learning could become underdeveloped.

The Neurology Now piece examined the physiological effects of excessive video-gaming in adolescents, as well as the impact of gaming on the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. A study published in the scientific journal Nature in 1998 showed that gaming releases dopamine, similar to what is observed after intravenous injection of stimulant drugs amphetamine or methylphenidate.

The article cites a study from China, where researchers performed MRI studies on the brains of 18 college students who spent an average of 10 hours a day online, primarily playing games like World of Warcraft. Compared with a control group of people who spent less than two hours a day online, gamers possessed less gray matter, or the thinking part of the brain.

But not all affects of video games on the brain are negative. A study from 2012 showed that playing first-person shooters can actually improve eyesight. And, according to Tom Hummer, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Indiana University, video games do not affect everyone equally.

"Asking what are the effects of video games is like asking what are the effects of eating food," Hummer said. "Different games do different things. They can have benefits or detriments depending on what you're looking at."

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