File: Picture Youngsters who play too much video games can rot the brain

WORRIED parents have long warned youngsters that too much computer game playing can rot the brain – and now it seems they were right

Frequent players have been found to have less grey matter, say scientists.

Action games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have been found to deplete a key memory centre in the brain called the hippocampus.

Regular players lose grey matter from this region, which could put them at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, depression and schizophrenia.

The problem, neuroscientists believe, is that players do not use spatial awareness to navigate through a warzone or city. Instead they follow the game’s built-in GPS, using a different part of the brain to find the way on ‘autopilot’. This is the caudate nucleus which acts as a counterbalance to the hippocampus. Using it too much is believed to shrink the memory centre, which is vital to general brain health.

The latest study’s lead author Dr Greg West, of the University of Montreal, said: ‘Video games have been shown to benefit certain cognitive systems in the brain, mainly related to visual attention and short-term memory. But there is also behavioural evidence that there might be a cost to that. That’s why we decided to do a full neuro-imaging study, scanning the brains of habitual players and comparing them to non-players, and what we saw was less grey matter in the hippocampus of habitual players. We then followed that up with two studies to establish causality, and we found that it was indeed the gaming that led to changes in the brain.’

The finding comes as warnings are growing over the effect of smartphones, social media and computer games on our brains, and those of our children.

In the latest study, around 100 adults who play around 19 hours a week of video games were given an MRI brain scan. The participants, many of whom played popular titles Call of Duty, Counterstrike, Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War, all had reduced grey matter in their hippocampus. This grey matter is an important safeguard against brain illnesses ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to Alzheimer’s.

London cabbies who have learned The Knowledge have an enlarged hippocampus because they use their spatial awareness so often.

Previous studies have shown gaming stimulates the caudate nucleus. The inverse relationship between these two areas means the more the caudate nucleus expands through overuse, the more the hippocampus loses cells.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, but UK expert Professor Andrew Przybylski, of Oxford University, warned: ‘Extrapolating from small-scale and noisy studies like these is extremely problematic.’

© Daily Mail