Professor Presents Research on Video Game Violence and The Brain
by Victoria Hungerford


The Department of Communication held a special event at the SRB on Tuesday, April 21, titled “This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Video Games.”

During the two-hour presentation, Professor Rene Weber, who headed the event, discussed the cognitive network of the brain when playing first-person-shooter (FPS) video games, such as “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” where the screen shows the game through the character’s “eyes,” allowing the player to identify more closely with and act as that character. Although FPS games appear to make the game, and consequently, the violence, more personal, Weber’s research suggests that violent video games do not make everyone violent; results are based on the individual and cannot be generalized.

The presentation discoursed the $30,000 research project that Weber undertook, aiming to map the brain’s cognitive network in 13 males, between the ages of 18-25, while playing a FPS style video game that none of the test subjects had played before. The subjects played the video game under Magnetic Resonance Imaging surveillance, allowing researchers to map points in the cognitive network of the subjects’ brains to see where and when during game play the red dots, indicating violence, appeared.

The study revealed that activity decreased in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the part of the brain located in the upper-frontal lobes that processes especially complex or challenging cognitive tasks. The ACC controls a wide range of autonomic and cognitive functions, such as decision-making, empathy, and emotion, and helps to monitor inappropriate behavior. Essentially, virtual violence increased cognitive anticipation, and, as a result, repressed ACC activity; the gamers knew that violence was going to occur, so their emotional ACC response was subtle.

The $17.9 billion video game enterprise has been on the market and growing since Pong debuted back in the sixties, but the premiere first-person-shooter game wasn’t released until 1992, when Wolfenstein 3D hit the stores, redefining the world’s definition of video games and how violent they can be. The majority of video games contain violence, even those games considered acceptable for all ages, rated E for Everyone; in fact, the average teenager will experience about 5,000 violent actions per week by playing video games alone. Players of both sexes are attracted to video games (and especially FPSs) for a number of reasons, including the glamorous, sexually attractive, somewhat realistic hero(ine) persona they assume, and the social event created by the game that, whether online or in real time, that allows the gamers a network of game-related relationships.