Study: Computer games might stunt learning

A controversial new study from a Japanese researcher finds that computer games might stunt teenagers’ developing brains and cause them to be more disposed to violence than their parents, regardless of the level of violence in the games’ content.

The video game industry and some educators dispute the study’s conclusions, citing other research that suggests video games actually can be beneficial to learning.

Brain-mapping expert Professor Ryuta Kawashima and his team at Tohoku University in Japan found that absorbing violence from computer games didn’t cause aggressive outbursts in children; instead, the outbursts were caused by stunting the development of the brain.

According to reports from the British newspaper The Observer, researchers measured and compared the level of brain activity in hundreds of teenagers playing a Nintendo game and doing a simple, repetitive math exercise known as the Kraepelin test, which involves adding single-digit numbers continuously for 30 minutes.

The researchers found that youths who played the computer game didn’t stimulate their frontal lobes, the area of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and—most important—self-control. In humans, the frontal lobe continues to develop until about age 20, it is reported.

Playing video games only stimulated the parts of the brain responsible for vision and movement, the researchers found.

“The implications are very serious for an increasingly violent society, and these students will be doing more and more bad things if they are playing games and not doing other things like reading aloud or learning arithmetic,” Kawashima told The Observer. Kawashima reportedly conducted his research with the intention of helping game manufacturers prove that video games benefit the development of children. Now, Kawashima says children should be encouraged to read, write, and interact with others instead.

Esteemed researchers and video game advocates say Kawashima’s study is quick to assign blame.

“I think this is a considerable leap of faith from the neuroscience data to the conclusion [the researchers] draw,” said Chris Dede, Timothy Worth professor of learning technology at Harvard University. “The experts I talked to in neuroscience are very hesitant to make that kind of sweeping judgment on a single study of brain patterns.”

Dede, who currently is leading a $1 million research project to determine what impact—if any—the video game environment has on learning, added, “I think this work is certainly not conclusive in the way it’s being presented by the researchers. It is an important area to study, but it’s going to take a lot more than a single isolated neuroscience study for us to fully understand what the strengths and limits of kids being involved with games and simulations are.”

The European Leisure Software Publishers Association downplayed Kawashima’s research and described it as having a “very limited focus.”

“For too long now, our industry has been the target of ill-informed criticism and scare-mongering,” Roger Bennett, director general of the association, said in statement. “We want to help those who weren’t brought up on computer games to understand this exciting new medium and the part it can play in healthy balance of learning and leisure activities for all age groups.”

According to the association, recent studies suggest that computer games offer social, psychological, and cultural benefits.

A research project conducted by the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester University found that those who play video games experience the same level of concentration and involvement as those who compete in sports.

“It confirms many of the positive benefits we believe people can gain from playing computer games,” Bennett said. “This research will help to allay the concerns of many people—particularly parents of young children—by proving that game playing can significantly assist mental agility and aid concentration.”


Tohoku University

Harvard University

European Leisure Software Publishers Association

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