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Abstract

The popular press is replete with stories about the effects of video and computer games on the brain. Sensationalist headlines claiming that video games 'damage the brain' or 'boost brain power' do not do justice to the complexities and limitations of the studies involved, and create a confusing overall picture about the effects of gaming on the brain. Here, six experts in the field shed light on our current understanding of the positive and negative ways in which playing video games can affect cognition and behaviour, and explain how this knowledge can be harnessed for educational and rehabilitation purposes. As research in this area is still in its early days, the contributors of this Viewpoint also discuss several issues and challenges that should be addressed to move the field forward.
Does playing video or computer games
have beneficial effects on brain and
behaviour? If so, does the evidence point to
general improvements in cognitive function?
Daphne Bavelier & C.Shawn Green.
Although the popular media has a strong ten-
dency to produce breathless headlines about
the effects (or lack of effects) of video games, it
is worth noting that the term ‘video games
is far from a single construct and thus, has
almost no scientific predictive power. One
can no more say what the effects of video
games are, than one can say what the effects
of food are. There are millions of individual
games, hundreds of distinct genres and sub-
genres, and they can be played on computers,
consoles, hand-held devices and cell phones.
Simply put, if one wants to know what the
effects of video games are, the devil is in
the details.
Studies that have examined perception
and spatial cognition (from our lab and many
others) have focused on one specific genre of
games — the so-called ‘action’ video games.
Indeed, playing this type of game results in a
wide range of behavioural benefits, includ-
ing enhancements in low-level vision, visual
attention, speed of processing and statistical
inference, among others. Furthermore, prop-
erly controlled training studies have repeatedly
demonstrated a causal link between video
game playing and enhanced abilities. Hence,
it is not just that people who naturally choose
to play games have better perceptual skills.
The ability to improve ones abilities through
practice has obvious practical ramifications,
from rehabilitation of visual skills in individu-
als with amblyopia (also known as a ‘lazy eye’)
to the training of surgeons.
Doug Hyun Han & Perry F.Renshaw.
The extent to which playing video and on-
line games affects the brain and behaviour is
uncertain. It is likely that the specific beneficial
or harmful effects are determined by the char-
acteristics of both the individual and of the
game. Several studies have reported that video
and on-line game play may improve visuo-
spatial capacity, visual acuity, task switch-
ing, decision making and object tracking in
healthy individuals. However, methodological
limitations to these studies have also been
noted. For example, cross-sectional compari-
sons of gamers and non-gamers may reflect
baseline differences in cognitive abilities rather
than the effects of game playing. Moreover,
video game training studies that involve the
recruitment of non-gamers and that provide
game experience have not generally shown
that gaming enhances performance on higher
level reasoning and problem solving tasks.
Michael M.Merzenich. The potential
benefits that can be achieved through
video-game play are, of course, a function
of the specific task requirements, and of the
cognitive and social demands and values
represented by the game(s) in play. Games
that require progressively more accurate and
more challenging judgments and actions at
higher speeds, that require focused attention
and the suppression of progressively stronger
distracting lures, that increase working
memory spans, that provide pro-social
training contexts, and that offer increasingly
harder cognitive challenges — among many
other possible game dimensions — can
be expected to drive positive neurological
changes in the brain systems that support
these behaviours.
There is growing direct evidence that
intensive use of video games results in signif-
icant generalized improvements in cognitive
function. Video games are controlled train-
ing regimens delivered in highly motivating
behavioural contexts. The documented gains
in processing speed, attentional control,
memory, and cognitive and social control
that result from playing specific games are
expected. Because behavioural changes arise
from brain changes, it is also no surprise that
performance improvements are paralleled by
enduring physical and functional neurologi-
cal remodelling.
At the same time, it should be noted that
the daily time spent playing video games in
school-age children has been shown to be
inversely correlated with academic achieve-
ment, arguably because time spent playing
video games is time stolen from reading and
curriculum-related academicstudy.
We and others have used video-game
design strategies to create training exercises
that drive targeted changes in perception,
cognition, and cognitive and social control
more efficiently and more effectively. We
have shown that these game-like exercises
drive positive changes in perceptual, cogni-
tive and action control abilities paralleled
by ‘corrective’ neurological changes in the
brains of trainees. Importantly, in these
trained populations, intensive exercise
results in generalized benefits and, in the
case of student populations, predicts future
academicsuccess.
VIEWPOINT
Brains on video games
Daphne Bavelier, C.Shawn Green, Doug Hyun Han, Perry F.Renshaw,
Michael M.Merzenich and Douglas A.Gentile
Abstract | The popular press is replete with stories about the effects of video and
computer games on the brain. Sensationalist headlines claiming that video games
‘damage the brain’ or ‘boost brain power’ do not do justice to the complexities and
limitations of the studies involved, and create a confusing overall picture about the
effects of gaming on the brain. Here, six experts in the field shed light on our
current understanding of the positive and negative ways in which playing video
games can affect cognition and behaviour, and explain how this knowledge can be
harnessed for educational and rehabilitation purposes. As research in this area is
still in its early days, the contributors of this Viewpoint also discuss several issues
and challenges that should be addressed to move the field forward.
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Douglas A.Gentile. Several lines of
research demonstrate that video games can
have beneficial effects. One excellent pro-
gramme of research has been conducted
by Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green,
examining the effects of playing what they
call ‘action’ video games — in practice,
these are usually highly violent first-person
shooting games such as Unreal Tournament.
Besides including violent content, action
games include high speed, high perceptual
and motor load, unpredictability and an
emphasis on peripheral processing. In sev-
eral training studies, these games have been
found to influence various aspects of per-
ceptual processing, including multiple object
tracking spatial resolution and central and
peripheral attention skills. In other words,
when you constantly need to scan the screen
to detect little differences (because they may
signal an enemy) and then orient attention
to and target that area, you become better at
those perceptual and attentional skills. These
are probably not so much general improve-
ments in cognitive functioning as they are
specific skills that can be transferred only
to other similar tasks (such as the percep-
tual skills needed by air traffic controllers).
One recent study, for example, found that
although experienced video gamers were
better at spatial navigation in computer-
mediated tasks than non-experienced play-
ers, they were not better at the same type of
navigation in a real-world environment. So,
what is learned may not be a broad, general
improvement in skill.
Although there are fewer studies that
have examined the positive effects of video
gaming on social behaviour, there are now
a couple by Tobias Greitemeyer and also by
my lab. We conducted experimental studies
in the US, Japan and Singapore and found a
causal short-term effect, namely that play-
ing pro-social games led to more ‘helping’
behaviour, whereas playing a violent game
led to more ‘harming behaviour. In a lon-
gitudinal study, we found that children who
played more pro-social games early in a
school year demonstrated increased helpful
behaviours later in the schoolyear.
Does playing video or computer games
have negative effects on brain and
behaviour?
D.B & C.S.G. There is no question that the
same characteristics that make many games
effective teachers of perceptual and cogni-
tive skills can also be harnessed to produce
maladaptive effects on brain and behaviour.
There is an extremely large body of research
demonstrating a relationship between play-
ing certain types of violent video games and
increases in measures of aggressive thoughts.
However, the subtleties regarding the size of
the effects reported in published research are
often sorely lacking in popular treatments
of the topic. Violent video games alone are
unlikely to turn a child with no other risk
factors into a maniacal killer. However, in
children with many risk factors, the size of
the effect may be sufficient to have practical
negative consequences.
In terms of the possibility of video games
potentially causing ‘reduced attention, we
have yet another concept that means differ-
ent things to different people. If one means
the ability to rapidly and efficiently filter
visual distractors that are quickly presented
(that is, visual attention), then clearly
playing action games greatly enhances
this ability. However, if one means the
ability to sustain focus on a slowly evolv-
ing stream of information, such as paying
attention in class, there is recent work that
suggests that total screen time, and video
game playing time in particular, may have
negativeeffects.
Thus, although parents and politicians
typically want to view the world as black or
white (and seek yes or no answers to ques-
tions such as ‘Should I let my child play
video games?’), there is simply no getting
around the fact that any complex training
regimen is likely to produce a myriad of
behavioural effects. Simply put, the world
really is grey, and the answer to the above
question is always ‘It depends.
D.H.H & P.F.R. Early studies on internet
addiction (involving game playing) reported
altered social behaviour, increased aggres-
sion, loneliness, reduced attention and
depressed mood in patients with internet
addiction. Recent studies have also reported
relatively high rates of co-morbid psychiatric
illness in people with internet addiction,
including major depressive disorder, bipo-
lar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) and anxiety spectrum
disorders. In addition, dysfunctional fam-
ily structures are thought to constitute an
important risk factor for internet and on-line
game addiction. Tragically, several hor-
rific cases of family collapse due to internet
addiction have been reported in Taiwan
and Korea. For example, a mother with an
on-line gambling addiction throttled her
two-year old son who had annoyed her by
asking for a meal. Similarly, a thirteen year-
old son beat his mother to death because
she accused him of spending too much time
playing on-line games. Further, a couple who
were immersed in an on-line game ignored
their 30month old daughter to the point
where she starved to death. We believe that
there is strong evidence in support of the
view that excessive internet use or game play
is associated with adverse consequences on
behaviour in some individuals.
M.M.M. Intensive game-play practices have
been shown to have several negative effects
on cognition. First, exposure to fast action
games, on a play level that applies to the
average regular gamer, has been shown to
contribute to an increase in ADHD-related
behaviours, and — it has been argued — can
lead to listlessness and discontent in slower-
paced and less stimulating academic, work
or social environments.
Second, time spent playing such games
is time spent away from other school- (or
work-) related, social or outdoor activities.
As noted earlier, despite the cognitive gains
that are potentially attributable to it, heavy
game play, especially to a level of addiction,
is inversely correlated with academic, occu-
pational and socialsuccess.
Third, action games with anti-social
(violent) content — which are particularly
addictive and provide particularly strong
motivational bases for driving positive
cognitive changes — have been shown to
reduce empathy, to reduce stress associ-
ated with observing or initiating anti-social
actions, and to increase confrontational
and disruptive behaviours in the real world.
These effects can be expected to increase as
the images and scenarios in action games
become more realistic. The increasingly
heavy use of video games and related virtual-
reality simulation environments for training
combat military personnel provides clear
testimony of their effectiveness for inuring
the ‘player’ against the social challenges and
stresses associated with observing or volun-
tarily initiating aggressive and violent behav-
iours. Although we can appreciate the value
of such training for soldiers, policemen or
emergency room technicians, there is a seri-
ous question as to whether or not intensive
exposures to such scenarios contribute posi-
tively to empathy and human understanding
in the greater society.
excessive internet use or
game play is associated with
adverse consequences on
behaviour in some individuals.
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Fourth, as discussed below, games can
be addictive. Addiction generates its own
special destructive class of neurological and
socialburdens.
D.A.G. There is evidence that games can
have negative effects, which makes sense
when one considers that most of the effects
reported are learning effects at their core.
As stated by Donald Hebb in 1940, neurons
that fire together wire together. Whatever
we practice repeatedly affects the brain, and
if we practice aggressive ways of thinking,
feeling and reacting, then we will get better
at those. This is not to say that violent games
necessarily cause violent behaviours, because
human aggression is complex and multi-
causal. But it does suggest that when we
practice being vigilant for enemies and then
reacting quickly to potentially aggressive
threats, we are rehearsing this script. In fact,
this is what has been shown in several stud-
ies: playing violent video games increases
what is called a ‘hostile attribution bias, a
perceptual and cognitive bias to attribute
hostile intentions to others’ actions. When
people with such a bias are bumped into in
the hallway, they assume that it was done
with hostile intent rather than by accident,
and the most automatic response is to retali-
ate in some way. The most comprehensive
meta-analysis conducted to date included
136 papers detailing 381 independent
tests of association conducted on 130,296
research participants. The analyses found
that violent game play led to significant
increases in desensitization, physiological
arousal, aggressive cognition and aggressive
behaviour. By contrast, pro-social behaviour
was decreased.
This is not to say that there isnt some
disagreement about this question in the sci-
entific community, for example over how to
interpret the size of the effect and whether
it is of sufficient practical significance.
On which side of the debate an investiga-
tor falls seems, in my opinion, to depend
on whether they care most about criminal
level violence or low-level aggression. The
evidence that playing video games induces
criminal or serious physical violence is
much weaker than the evidence that games
increase the types of aggression that hap-
pen every day in school hallways. As a
developmental psychologist, I care deeply
about this everyday aggression (verbal,
relational and physical), whereas critics of
the research seem to be mostly interested in
criminal violence.
With regard to attention, there are not
many studies into the effect of playing video
games on the types of directed and sustained
attention that is needed in the classroom, but
those that exist seem to suggest that there
is a relationship between video gaming and
attention problems in school. My current
interpretation is that the same attentional
skills that are learned by playing action
games (such as a wider field of view and
attention to the periphery) are part of the
problem. Although these are good skills in a
computer-mediated environment, they are a
liability in school when the child is supposed
to ignore the kid fidgeting in the chair next
to him and focus on only onething.
How strong is the evidence that
gaming can be addictive?
D.B & C.S.G. Although the lack of firmly
established standards has definitely hin-
dered research in this field (for example,
the American Medical Association does not
currently recognize video-game or internet
addiction as a psychiatric disorder), there
does seem to be an emerging scientific
consensus that video-game play has the
potential to become pathologically addic-
tive. At present, the best research uses scales
adapted from those developed to diagnose
pathological gambling. It is important to
note that ‘pathologically addicted’ implies
more than simply spending a consider-
able amount of time playing games. Being
pathologically addicted means, among other
things, an actual reduction in the ability to
function normally in society. Thus, an indi-
vidual who plays video games forty hours
per week may not meet the criteria for being
a pathological user, whereas others may
exhibit pathological signs despite substan-
tially less totalusage.
A key issue for future research concerns
the characterisation of the neural pathways
underlying this pathological use of tech-
nology. We know that the frontostriatal
pathway, which strongly mediates both drug
addiction and behavioural disorders such as
pathological gambling, is also activated by
some video games. Unfortunately, relatively
little is known about the developmental time
course of the relevant neural pathways, and
even less about how their development is
affected by the use of technology.
D.H.H & P.F.R. Several recent studies have
suggested that internet addiction may be
harmful enough to be categorized as a
psychiatric disorder. Internet addiction is
sometimes classified as a ‘behavioural addic-
tion’ in light of its natural course, clinical
symptoms, tolerance, comorbidities and
neurobiology. In other studies, internet
addiction has been regarded as a subtype of
impulse-control disorder.
Possible genetic vulnerability to on-line
game addiction has been reported in stud-
ies on the genes encoding the dopamine
D2 receptor, catecholamine-o-methyltrans-
ferase and the serotonin transporter, and
is consistent with the view that individuals
with internet addiction have high novelty
seeking and exhibit high reward depend-
ence behaviour. Similarly, some games seem
to have much more of an addictive potential
thanothers.
Neuroimaging studies have documented
changes in brain activity during on-line
game play. There is now evidence that
brain areas that respond to game stimuli
in patients with on-line game addiction
are similar to those that respond to drug
cue-induced craving in patients with sub-
stance dependence. These brain regions
include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,
orbitofrontal cortex, parahippocampal
gyrus, nucleus accumbens, thalamus and
caudatenucleus.
The functional impairments observed
in individuals with on-line game addiction
are also thought to be similar to the impair-
ments observed in other addictions. For
example, video- or on-line game play has
been associated with dysfunction in five
domains: academic, social, occupational,
developmental and behavioural. Subjects
who are typically recruited for research stud-
ies engage in on-line game play for more
than 4hours per day or 30hours per week.
These subjects reported a persistent desire
for online gaming and unsuccessful efforts
to cut down or control on-line game play-
ing. School grades and work performance
decreased. They also showed disruption of
their daily routines (sleeping during the day
and gaming at night, irregular meals and
poor hygiene) and were irritable, aggres-
sive, and violent when family members
asked them to stop playing. Some patients
borrowed enormous amounts of money
($30,000 over three months) to support
their on-line game play. Other patients
reported on-line game play after finishing
school and that this prevented them from
obtaining a job or participating in significant
socialroles.
M.M.M. About 1 in 5 regular gamers
(4-10% of school-age children and young
adults) seem to meet the medical crite-
ria that would define them as ‘addicted.
Recent studies have revealed alterations
in the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate
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cortices of dependent gamers that parallel
those recorded in alcoholics and individu-
als addicted to other substances of abuse.
It should be noted that addiction-related
distortions in reward systems involved in
learning processes contribute to broad-
ranging cognitive deficits in every other
studied form of addiction.
Our younger-age population is strongly
attached to screen-delivered media in a vari-
ety of forms. Most regular video-game play-
ers are also heavy consumers of other media;
on average they are engaged with screens
for more than 10hours per day (projecting
forward, over 20years of their life by age 60).
There is thus a massive and unprecedented
difference in how their brains are plastically
engaged in life compared with those of aver-
age individuals from earlier generations, and
there is little question that the operational
characteristics of the average modern brain
substantially differ from that of our ances-
tors. A better understanding of the conse-
quences of these differences in brain use for
societal and individual brain health should
be high on our researchagenda.
D.A.G. I began studying the issue of video-
game ‘addiction’ because I was highly
sceptical of it. I believed that people were
misusing the expression to mean ‘spends
a lot of time gaming, because addictions
are not defined by how much one engages
in an action (for example, drinking), but
by how much it damages ones life. I began
studying gaming from this more clinical
approach, using criteria adapted from those
for pathological gambling. Based on this
much stricter set of criteria — which assess
dysfunction in multiple areas of life (school,
social, family, psychological and emotional
functioning) — about 8% of US gamers
between 8 and 18 years of age could be
considered pathological or ‘addicted’. There
are now scores of studies showing that the
pattern of problems that pathological gam-
ers face are very similar to the problems that
people with substance or gambling addic-
tions have. Thus, the problem seems to have
some construct validity.
There are only two published lon-
gitudinal studies on this topic to date.
One focused on 881 Chinese adolescents
between 13 and 16, using Young’s 20-item
Internet Addiction Scale. Adolescents
were surveyed twice, nine months apart.
Pathological internet use predicted
increased risk of depression (but not general
anxiety) nine months later, after control-
ling for several potential confounding fac-
tors such as sex, age, family dissatisfaction
and illness, among others. A larger study
of 3,034 Singaporean children and adoles-
cents followed over two years gave some
of the first clear evidence of whether vari-
ables such as depression and poor school
performance are predictors of or are
predicted by pathological video gaming.
Because of the large sample size, this study
was able to classify gamers into four types:
those who never exhibited pathological
behaviour over the two years, those who
became pathological gamers, those who
were pathological at the start but stopped
being pathological, and those who were and
stayed pathological gamers. As in the first
study with Chinese adolescents, depres-
sion became worse if adolescents became
pathological gamers. Anxiety, social phobia
and school performance also became worse
in adolescents who became pathological
gamers. Interestingly, if they stopped being
pathological gamers, their depression,
anxiety, social phobia decreased and school
performance improved. These findings sug-
gest that these variables may be outcomes
of pathological technology use rather than
predictors of it. At a minimum, they sug-
gest that these variables are co-morbid with
pathological gaming, such that they can
influence each other.
To my knowledge, however, there haven’t
been any published studies looking at the
effects of gaming addiction on the brain,
although there are some demonstrating that
dopamine is released and that brain reward
centres are activated during video-game
playing.
Is there a place for using video or
computer games in education and
rehabilitation?
D.B & C.S.G. Some of the recent successes
using off-the-shelf games (which were
designed with no particular outcome in
mind, other than being a fun game) in the
rehabilitation of, for instance, amblyopia,
are certainly a cause for optimism. However,
although the idea of using video games in
educational and rehabilitative settings has
been around for decades, as a field were
probably still only in the very early stages
of learning how to effectively harness the
power of video games while simultane-
ously attempting to produce a desired
outcome. For instance, many of the earliest
educational video games were little more
than slightly dressed up flashcards — full
of sounds and interesting looking graph-
ics, but lacking most of the characteristics
that truly define a video game. Too often
those developing the games were individu-
als who knew a lot about the content they
wanted to teach, but very little about how
make a game compelling and fun. As more
true game developers turn their attention to
educational and/or clinical applications, new
fields are emerging in which educational and
medical practitioners are collaborating with
game designers to develop fun and attractive
activities that will guarantee time on task
and at the same time have the educational or
rehabilitation impact that experts in the field
areseeking.
D.H.H & P.F.R. There have been several trials
of video games in educational and rehabilita-
tion settings. In the rehabilitation of patients
with post-traumatic stress disorder following
motor vehicle accidents, the virtual-reality
experience (through a computer game)
of driving or riding in a car may improve
clinical symptoms and promote recov-
ery. In addition, several games have been
developed for screening or rehabilitation
of people with dementia. Furthermore, we
have reported that eightweeks of internet-
game play reduced delusional thinking and
extra-pyramidal symptoms in patients with
schizophrenia. In addition, pro-social video
games have been associated with increased
empathy and decreased reported pleasure
at another’s misfortune, compared with the
effects of neutral games in healthy subjects.
In a pilot study in adolescents with autism
spectrum disorders, we noted increased
social behaviour and increases in fusiform
gyrus activity in response to emotional
words and emoticons during a sixweek,
pro-social on-line game playing period.
Although existing research is limited, we
believe that a growing number of clinical
applications for video-game play will emerge
over time.
M.M.M. Video games perse dont have a
special role to play in these arenas. Video
games exploit well-established principles
of motivation and learning that have been
established by experimental psychology and
neuroscience research. Those same princi-
ples have also been applied by us and by oth-
ers in designing ‘brain training’ exercises to
drive targeted, positively empowering and, if
necessary, ‘corrective’ behavioural and neu-
rological changes in the brains of children
and adults who are in need of help. These
forms of game-like training have already
strengthened or recovered the abilities and
improved the prospects and quality of life of
millions of individuals. There is, of course,
a convergence in the design of successful
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video games and effective plasticity-based
brain training exercises, because enthusiastic
engagement by a gamer or trainee is a key
goal in both arenas. However, because edu-
cation- or rehabilitation-directed training is
necessarily designed to address neurological
impairments that apply to specific learning
problems or for specific clinical indications,
there are inevitably practical constraints
on such exercise designs. It should also
be noted that the educational and medi-
cal applications of brain training are most
effectively deployed by using internet-based
strategies, so that trainee compliance and
progress can be monitored, and by applying
internet-delivered assessment tools to assure
that generalized, targeted benefits are being
achieved. Video games do not implement
these monitoring and outcome-assessment
methods.
These game-like computer-based train-
ing programmes represent the first wave in
an impending revolution for brain training
in schools, medicine and in the broader
society. In the future, such computer-guided
brain training may be employed to substan-
tially improve the performance of almost
every child in school. In parallel, using this
approach to drive strengthening, ameliora-
tive or corrective changes that increase resil-
ience in people who are at risk for certain
illnesses, or to treat patients whose brain
function is impaired by illness, is rapidly
emerging as an important new dimension of
psychiatric and neurological medicine.
We must remember that the application
of this technology in humans has a poten-
tially destructive side. It is easy to impair
human abilities by training, even while
other abilities are being improved or refined.
Furthermore, video games shall continue to
evolve in forms that are increasingly addic-
tive. Time spent on screen-delivered media
can be expected to steal more time away
from real life. Video game attraction strate-
gies that have been empirically developed to
capture the hearts and minds of the player
are already being more extensively applied
by the persuaders than by the educators or
the medical practitioners. The Genie (neuro-
science-guided brain plasticity) is out of the
bottle, for good and — if we let it loose with-
out more guidance and restraint — almost
certainly, forill.
D.A.G. Games offer significant promise for
education. They use many of the techniques
that a truly exceptional teacher uses. For
example, they have clear objectives that
are set at multiple difficulty levels to adapt
to the prior knowledge and pace of each
learner; they require learning to be active,
with immediate feedback and sufficient
practice to the point of mastery; practice
on a game continues until much of what is
learned becomes automatic; mastery of a
game is reinforced extrinsically, by points
and levels, and intrinsically, by a feeling of
accomplishment and social status; levels
of progress are well-sequenced, such that
success at later levels is contingent upon
mastering earlier levels; games encourage
distributed practice across time; and games
enable the gamer to practice the same con-
cepts in different contexts, therefore encour-
aging transfer of skills. Unfortunately,
games have yet to find a way to live up to
their promise. Authors such as James Gee
have documented the theoretical value
of games for education. Studies of educa-
tional software demonstrate that children
do learn from playing educational games.
Nonetheless, the amount of money spent on
educational games is a tiny fraction of the
amount spent on a commercial entertain-
ment game. Therefore, most educational
games arent as interesting, fun or good as
even a mediocre commercialgame.
What are the challenges and future
directions for neuroscience research in
this field?
D.B & C.S.G. The mechanisms by which
video-game play triggers such widespread
brain plasticity remain to be elucidated. And
because behavioural and non-invasive brain
imaging methods can only take us so far
towards this goal, pharmacological studies in
humans and complementary studies in ani-
mal models (yes, rats playing Call of Duty
or at least the animal equivalent) may move
the field forward. Beyond the clear theoreti-
cal interest, findings from such studies will
be of great practical benefit when attempting
to design games that result in transferable
learning, be it for rehabilitation purposes,
education or training.
One of the remaining challenges is to
better understand which game components
are crucial for promoting a given skill in a
particular individual. Although our current
knowledge is at the group level — for exam-
ple, some overarching game components,
such as the need to constantly predict when
and where events of interest may occur, are
crucial in training attention and executive
functions — the most efficient learning
regimens are unlikely to be one-size fits-all.
Games in the future will have the ability to
gather data about the player while simulta-
neously building the exact game needed in
real time. A handful of pilot training schools
are already exploring this type of highly per-
sonalized tutoring.
D.H.H & P.F.R. First of all, objective diag-
nostic criteria for gaming addiction should
be established. In addition, we need to better
understand the differences between pure
on-line gaming addiction and on-line gam-
ing addiction that is co-morbid with other
psychiatric disorders. This is important as
some investigators have argued that inter-
net addiction does not exist but is merely
a symptom of psychiatric illnesses such
as major depressive disorder or ADHD.
Second, the vulnerabilities to on-line
gaming addiction, including genetic and
cognitive factors, need to be more clearly
defined. Third, standard and effective treat-
ments need to be developed and validated.
Several pilot studies have suggested that
the antidepressant drugs citalopram and
bupropion may be effective for the treatment
of on-line gaming addiction. Similarly, cog-
nitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been
reported to be effective for reducing internet
use time and improving daily life patterns
and family coherence. However, future stud-
ies on on-line gaming addiction treatment
will require larger populations and longer
follow-up periods. In addition, the relation-
ship between clinical symptoms and changes
in brain activity needs to be more clearly
defined. Finally, studies of internet-game
play are currently somewhat polarized and
this area of research is likely to be improved
if investigators acknowledged both the
potential beneficial and harmful effects of
videogames.
M.M.M. Scientists and technologists have
now developed practical strategies that
strongly engage a large proportion of
people from all over the world (especially
those of younger ages) at a level of positive
motivation that can progress to addiction
in many of them. Modern societies have
come to be massively media-engaged and
media-dependent, over an incredibly short
time-span in our history. The application of
motivationally-powerful strategies to help
children and adults change their behaviours
(and brains) for the better has already begun
Studies of educational
software demonstrate that
children do learn from playing
educational games.
PERSPECTIVES
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NEUROSCIENCE VOLUME 12
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767
© 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
in earnest. Because of their great didactic
efficiencies, and because brain plasticity-
based exercises can improve the perfor-
mance characteristics of the brain of almost
every child, these new game-like tools shall
be at the core of a schooling revolution. They
might also be widely deployed to treat the
specific neurological problems that charac-
terize psychiatric and neurological illnesses,
and the normal ageing process.
How can we intelligently control this
development? First, we should work to
further integrate cognitive neuroscience
with educational science and clinical medi-
cine. Our understanding of the differences
between the operational brains of normal
versus developmentally, neurologically
or psychiatrically impaired individuals is
rapidly increasing, as is our understanding
of the neural bases of human intelligence
and ability. This knowledge will provide the
foundation for both designing and confirm-
ing the effectiveness of targeted training
tools. Second, the entry of new game-like
training programmes into schools and
clinics must be based on controlled, high-
standard trials. The scientific community
and the public should insist that any medical
claims about training programmes are based
on formal review processes (by the US Food
and Drug Administration or equivalent).
Third, the public would benefit from stand-
ards organizations that objectively quantify
the positive and negative consequences of
the intensive use of specific video games.
Finally, we should intensify our efforts to
determine how our growing screen depend-
ence in our everyday lives is changing us in
ways that both strengthen and weaken us, as
individuals and as asociety.
D.A.G. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing
us right now is the trap of biased and dichot-
omous thinking. Most people (including
many scientists) are either critics or propo-
nents of games and gaming research. This has
a detrimental effect on the field, and serves
to increase rhetoric and to limit research.
I have proposed that there are at least five
dimensions along which video games can
have effects on brain and behaviour — the
content, context, structure and mechanics
of games, and the time spent game playing.
When all these dimensions are taken into
account it is often possible to explain how
research findings that initially seem to be
contradictory are actually congruent.
The amount of time that people spend on
recreational games can have effects on them,
regardless of specific game features. Some
studies have demonstrated that the amount
of time spent playing games predicts poorer
school performance. This effect is likely to
be due to displacement of other academically
beneficial activities. Other studies have dem-
onstrated a relationship between the amount
of sedentary gaming and obesity, repetitive
strain disorders and video-game addiction.
Most of the research on video game
effects has focused on the content dimension.
In short, people learn the content of what-
ever games they play. If they play educational
games, they learn the educational content
and can apply it in school; if they play games
designed to teach health content, they learn
those concepts and apply them to their lives; if
they play violent games, they learn the violent
content and may apply it to theirlives.
The context of game play may produce
differential effects, and this is the least
researched dimension at this time. Context
can be defined within the game or outside of
the game. One type of within-game context
can be seen in violent games that allow for
either team-based or ‘free-for-all’ modes of
play. Both may be equally violent, but play-
ing in an ‘everyone-for-oneself mode’ might
lead to more aggressive thoughts, lower
empathy and greater desensitization. If the
in-game context requires players to cooper-
ate to achieve goals, this might also teach
teamwork and social coordination skills.
Furthermore, the social context outside of
the game may matter. Playing a violent game
in a room (virtual or real) with other indi-
viduals might increase the effects on aggres-
sion because players are giving each other
social support for aggression. However, it
might actually reduce these effect if ones
motivations are pro-social (that is, to help
your friends in the game). No studies have
yet tested these hypotheses.
The way in which the game is structured
and displayed on the screen can also have
effects. Screen structure provides informa-
tion that is learned, similar to how we learn
to perceive visual information in general.
Some studies have demonstrated that
gaming improves visual attention skills,
including the ability to acquire three-dimen-
sional information from flat screens. Playing
games that require those skills has also been
shown to improve mental rotationskills.
Finally, the mechanics dimension refers
to what can be learned from playing a game
with different types of game controllers.
Depending on the type of controller, differ-
ent fine and gross motor skills and balance
skills can be improved and these effects
could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes.
The intersection of structure and mechanics
is the continuous feedback loop that is often
referred to as ‘hand–eye coordination.
Considering these different dimensions
when analysing the effects of video games
should, hopefully, reduce dichotomous
thinking in the field. Playing video games
is neither good nor bad — existing research
shows that they are powerful teaching tools
and therefore we need to harness that poten-
tial, aiming to maximize the benefits while
minimizing the potentialharms.
Daphne Bavelier is at the Brain & Vision Lab,
Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University
of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.
C.Shawn Green is at the Center for Cognitive Science,
Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota,
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.
Doug Hyun Han is at the Department of Psychiatry,
School of Medicine, Chung Ang University,
224‑1 HeukSeok‑Dong, Dong Jack‑Gu, Seoul, Korea
156‑755.
Perry F.Renshaw is at the Department of Psychiatry
and the Brain Institute, University of Utah,
Salt Lake City, Utah 84108, USA.
Michael M Merzenich is at the W.M.Keck Foundation
Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of
California San Francisco, California 94143, USA.
Douglas A.Gentile is at the Media Research Lab,
Department of Psychology, Iowa State University,
Ames, Iowa 50011, USA.
e‑mails: daphne@cvs.rochester.edu; csgreen@umn.
edu; hduk@yahoo.com; Perry.Renshaw@hsc.utah.edu;
merz@phy.ucsf.edu; dgentile@iastate.edu
doi:10.1038/nrn3135
Acknowledgements
D.H.H. thanks the Korean Game Culture Foundation for data
and technical support.
Competing interests statement
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
FURTHER INFORMATION
Douglas A. Gentile’s homepage: www.douglasgentile.com
ALL LINKS ARE ACTIVE IN THE ONLINE PDF
PERSPECTIVES
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© 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
... Concerning learning outcomes of VG, as we expressed earlier, research shows VG in educational spaces provide mainly verbal learnings, more factual than conceptual (Boyle et al., 2016;Clark et al., 2016). Some studies also focus on VG enhancing certain cognitive processes such as attention, spatial cognition, or speed of processing (Bediou et al., 2018;Dye et al., 2009), whereas others deem VG as being detrimental for youngsters' attentional and processing abilities (Bavelier et al., 2011;Greenfield, 2014). There is also some research on VG promoting prosocial attitudes (Greitemeyer and Mügge, 2014;Passmore and Holder, 2014), opposed to the widespread conclusion that VG encourage aggressive or unsuited behavior, loneliness, and social irresponsibility (Anderson et al., 2010;Bavelier et al., 2011;Gollwitzer and Melzer, 2012). ...
... Some studies also focus on VG enhancing certain cognitive processes such as attention, spatial cognition, or speed of processing (Bediou et al., 2018;Dye et al., 2009), whereas others deem VG as being detrimental for youngsters' attentional and processing abilities (Bavelier et al., 2011;Greenfield, 2014). There is also some research on VG promoting prosocial attitudes (Greitemeyer and Mügge, 2014;Passmore and Holder, 2014), opposed to the widespread conclusion that VG encourage aggressive or unsuited behavior, loneliness, and social irresponsibility (Anderson et al., 2010;Bavelier et al., 2011;Gollwitzer and Melzer, 2012). What learning outcomes do teachers consider more prominent from VG? Do they hold the view that VG foster prosocial attitudes or violent behavior (Greitemeyer et al., 2010)? ...
... As educational practices are still mostly oriented to specific domain verbal learning and also the educational use of VG promotes above all verbal learning, we should expect teachers to also conceive this goal as a priority. In contrast, we consider that attitudinal learning will be less considered for two reasons: the first one, because there is a traditional belief of that VG favor antisocial behavior (Anderson et al., 2010;Bavelier et al., 2011) and the second one because attitudinal learning is the goal which traditionally has been less taught in schools (Martín, 2006). ...
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Una aproximación sobre los principales debates académicos y científicos actuales con relación a los videojuegos, se constituye en un necesario insumo para advertir las tendencias en las cuales se pueden inscribir los proyectos que surgen para comprender este fenómeno social, cultural y político. Este es el problema que constituye el presente estudio. Se hace un énfasis en la producción académica e investigativa de los últimos 30 años, por ser el tiempo en el que comienza la gesta por consolidar un campo académico, interdisciplinario y autónomo sobre los estudios del videojuego (games studies). Se concluyen tres tendencias centrales, de las que se derivan muchas otras líneas de investigación; a saber, el problema del videojuego, los efectos de los videojuegos y el videojuego como expresión cultural.
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Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has become a significant issue in mental healthcare over the past decades as the number of people engaging in excessive and unhealthy gaming increases with each year. Despite its inclusion in the 5th Edition of Diagnostic Statistical Manual and the development of a number of treatment methods that have been designed and tested for IGD, treatment remains a challenge. This review attempts to give an overview of the current state of IGD and its treatment with a specific focus on the potential of technology-based solutions, such as web-based programs, mobile applications, and virtual reality. The review also highlights the need for additional work in the area of treatment development for IGD and the preliminary evidence for the usefulness and importance of technology-based treatment methods which offer unique advantages, such as accessibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, over other existing treatment options.
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