The sheer scope of research areas driven by imaging is on grand display here at RSNA 2011. On Nov. 30, for example, I attended a press conference on a controversial topic--the effect of violent video games on players. Researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis are pushing the frontiers of understanding here. “For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home,” said Yang Wang, M.D., assistant professor, department of radiology and imaging sciences.

In the study, two groups of similar males were compared. One group played what researcher Vincent Mathews, M.D., described as a “first person shooter game,” which he declined to identify by brand name, only describing it as a popular game designed for mature audiences. The second group played no games. Both groups underwent functional MRI studies before and after. In essence, the group playing the violent games revealed a decrease in blood flow to the area of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control, Mathews said during a press conference. “There is a statistically significant difference in the way the brain functions after playing violent video games,” he said.

The department has been researching the effect of violent games for a decade, and its work upholds other research pointing to negative effects of playing, Matthews noted. Those exposed to the violent games, he said, may see aggressive behavior as acceptable. Matthews, a professor of radiology at IU, acknowledged the limitations of the study, saying the long-term effect of heavy exposure to violent media is not known. And he also pointed out that courts have been reluctant to ban the sale of the games to minors, upholding the rights of free speech rather than attempting to regulate their consumption.

In this case, the free market trumps science by a broad margin. But as the research advances, perhaps our society will reconsider the advisability of promoting violent media and games. Kudos to RSNA for helping to broaden awareness of the issue.

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