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Video Games, Brain Alterations, and Parenting... Where Does It All Tie?

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

Have you ever questioned the ways in which certain types of gaming activities alter the brain? How about how certain activities trigger predispositions versus others discourage predispositions? Have you ever considered how addictive behavior developed during childhood could lead to alterations of behavior in adulthood?

Expert Dr. Andrew Doan, in a video on Primetime (2013), explained that video games serve as the brain’s dopamine stimulant in the same way as do drugs and alcohol. In other words, MRI scans of children addicted to video games, he went on to suggest, show the same brain activity as do those of drug and alcohol addicts. Dr. Andrew Doan showcased a great deal or vulnerability but also courage to admit that while he was addicted to video games during medical school, he turned aggressive. In addition, he goes on to claim that his video game obsession nearly destroyed his marriage and his career. His fear rests on the fact that exposure to video games could ultimately impair children’s ability to show empathy, become creative, know right from wrong, and develop good communication skills, all attributes which are critical to childhood developmental stages and the transitions from childhood into adulthood and beyond. Why this topic is so important is due to that fact that video games can actually change the brain. In my opinion, however, the greater concern is whether or not video games alter the brain in a way that could lead to positive alternations or negative alterations.

Results from 116 scientific studies, performed by Marc Palaus and colleagues, indicate that playing video games not only alters brain’s performance but even its structure. Research indicates that there is direct evidence, for example, that playing video games has direct influence on the hippocampus as well as on the reward system which can lead to addiction. (Frontiers, 2017) Despite that not all people interpret and respond to violent media in the same way, it is important to identify a correlation between violent video games and aggression should such a correlation exist. Bushman (1996) explains this notion by relating it to people who are prone to anger more easily, who might possess “a more developed cognitive-associative network related to ideas of anger than those who are not angry.” (Giumetti & Markey, 2007, Introduction Section) Thus, stating that the effect is triggered more so by predispositions that a person may have in relation to anger, prior to being exposed to visuals about anger, is most certainly a valid point. This is more reason why parenting plays such a crucial role in the development of a child. Deciding what activities parents allow their children to engage with, early in life, is critical during childhood years. The aftermath of these decisions can be brain altering which can lead to poor life quality later in life.

Results from a study on the diffusion tensor imaging mean diffusivity (MD) amount in the brain in the journal Molecular Psychiatry suggest that “regardless of intelligence quotient type, higher MD in the areas of the left thalamus, left hippocampus, left putamen, left insula and left Heschl gyrus was associated with lower intelligence.” In addition, the study suggests that increase video game play “delayed development of the microstructure in extensive brain regions and verbal intelligence.” (Takeuchi, Taki, Hashizume, Asano, K., Asano, M., & Sassa, 2016 Introduction Section). Neuroimaging studies on video game play impact on brains demonstrate that video game play impacts areas of the brain responsible for verbal processes, reward and motivational processes, and memory and sleep. The research data clearly suggests that excess of video game play could lead to poor communication skills as well as poor academic performance by children with a video game addiction whose problems can range from withdrawal from society, learning and memory deficits, motivational decrease, all which play key roles in test performance among children not to mention in social life aspects. Furthermore, a correlation was drawn between video game play and an increase of grey matter in the DLFPC (Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). (Takeuchi, Taki, Hashizume, Asano, K., Asano, M., & Sassa, 2016 Discussion Section) In order for us to appreciate what the impact on the DLFPC is, one would have to understand what this part of the forebrain is responsible for. Please note, frontal lobe development is sensitive not only to epigenetic influences but also to aversive childhood experiences (ACEs). Thus, parenting plays one of the most important roles in the development of a child's life.

Per an article published in the Current Biology journal (2011), DLFPC has a role to play in our ability to make decisions when we consider that “perceptual decision making is the process of choosing one option or course of action from a set of alternatives based on information gathered from sensory systems.” (Philiastides, Auksztulewicz, Heekeren, & Blankenburg, 2011, Results and Discussion Section). In a study on playing Super Mario and gray matter changes, published in Molecular Psychiatry (2014), the authors present some potential positive outcomes from playing video games related to attention tasks and how this can be potentially further used in training efforts. Yet, they also claim that “cross-sectional studies leave it impossible to determine whether observed structural differences are due to pre-existing differences or whether they represent the effects of intense training.” (Kuhn, Gleich, Lorenz, Lindenberger & Gallinat, 2014) This doesn’t provide evidence that could lead me to entrust any training techniques based on video games. There are plenty of amazing visual learning tools, currently available on the market, that can play a role in training via tools such as logic and reason as stimulants. There are hundreds of academic tools for children to learn from, that don’t necessitate the use of video games, which still maintain an interactive platform for kids to learn through. In my personal opinion, specific video games which are aggressive or tend to feed off the already easily angered temperaments of children should be permanently banned from our society due to the dangers these present to the vulnerable brains of children which are still in developmental stages. We have far too many options these days for children, thus the decision making in the hands of children can be very troublesome considering that a human's frontal lobe maturation extends beyond the age of 20 according to neuroscientists. (Kolb, Whishaw & Teskey, 2019, p.257) Thus, careful consideration towards activities for children should be assessed by parents who should take into account the pros and cons of their children's developmental activities.

Children are the future leaders and innovators of our world. Please protect the children.

Carmen A. Cisnadean


Dr. Andrew Doan, (May 1, 2013) How do video games affect our brains and slow down the brain developement? [Video]. UTTV San Diego.

Frontiers. (2017, June 22). Video games can change your brain: Studies investigating how playing video games can affect the brain have shown that they can cause changes in many brain regions. ScienceDaily.

Giumetti, W., Gary & Markey, M., Partick (2007, December) Journal of Research in Personality, Vol. 41 (6). Elsevier. Violent video games and anger as predictors of aggression.

Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Hashizume, H., Asano, K., Asano, M., & Sassa, Y. (2016, December) Molecular Psychiatry, Vol. 21 (12). Impact of videogame play on the brain's microstructural properties: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Hashizume, H., Asano, K., Asano, M., & Sassa, Y. (2016, December) Molecular Psychiatry, Vol. 21 (12). Impact of videogame play on the brain's microstructural properties: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses.

Philiastides, G., Marios, Auksztulewicz, Ryszard, Heekeren, Hauke, R., & Blankenburg, Felix. (2011, June) Current Biology, Vol. 21 (11). Causal Role of Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex in Human Perceptual Decision Making. Kuhn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R.C., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014, Feb) Molecular Psychiatry, Vol. 19 (2). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Gale Online.

Kolb, Brian, Whishaw, Q., Ian and Teskey, G. Campbell (2019). An Introduction to Brain and Behavior. 6th Edition. Worth Publishers, Macmillan Learning, NY.

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