Computer games stunt brain growth

Children who play computer games for hours on end risk stunted brain growth and a loss of self-control research has shown.

A study found thought processes required by computer games were too simple to stimulate crucial area of the brain, leading to underdevelopment and consequent behavioural problems such as violence.

Professor Ryuta Kawashima of Japan's Tokyo University, said the greatest threat from computer games was not their tendency to arouse aggression, as previously thought, but the lack of mental stimulation they provided.

His team measured the brain activity of hundreds of teenagers while they played a computer game and compared it to another group doing arithmetic.

They said results showed that, unlike the maths exercise, the computer game did not stimulate the brain's frontal lobe, which plays and important role in the repression of antisocial impulses and is associated with memory, learning and emotion.

A lack of stimulation in this area before age 20 prevented neurones from thickening and connecting thus impairing the brain's ability to control impulses such as violence and aggression.

Speaking at a conference in Britain Kawashima said: The importance of this discovery cannot be underestimated. 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 those students will be doing more and more bad things and not doing other things like reading aloud or learning arithmetic.

Dr. Tonmoy Sharma of the Institute of Psychiatry, said Professor Kawashima1s theory was backed by other studies.

If computer games are the sole or main source of stimulation over a prolonged period of time when the brain is developing, this could result in an underdeveloped frontal lobe and the behavioural problems associated with thisĀ², Sharma said.

Computer games do not lead to brain development because they simply require the repitition of simple actions and have more to do with developing quick reflexes than carrying out more mentally challenging activities such as forward planning or analysis.

Teaching children to play more demanding games such as chess would be better than buying them a computer game, although probably not quite as welcome.

Stimulation of the frontal lobe was important in the production of the chemical serotonin, used by the brain to repress impulses.

Sharma said when this area of the brain was not stimulated serotonin levels fell and a person's ability to control their behaviour was reduced.

Kawashima's study also found that reading aloud was effective at stimulating the frontal lobe.

The Sun Herald, August 26, 2001

Computer games stunt brain growth page image