7 December 2007

Neuroscientists Map Violent Media's Effects On Brain

by Kate Melville

Although past studies have shown some correlation between exposure to media violence and real-life violent behavior, there has been little direct neuroscientific support for the theory until now.

Researchers using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) at Columbia University Medical Center have shown that watching violent programs can cause parts of your brain that suppress aggressive behaviors to become less active.

Published in PLoS ONE, the study shows that brain networks responsible for suppressing behaviors like inappropriate or unwarranted aggression (including the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala) became less active after study subjects watched several short clips from popular movies depicting acts of violence. The researchers contend that these changes could render people less able to control their own aggressive behavior.

"Depictions of violent acts have become very common in the popular media," said researcher Christopher Kelly. "Our findings demonstrate for the first time that watching media depictions of violence does influence processing in parts of the brain that control behaviors like aggression. This is an important finding, and further research should examine very closely how these changes affect real-life behavior."

Interestingly, a secondary finding the study made was that after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain's ability to inhibit behavior-related processing. None of these changes in brain activity occurred when subjects watched non-violent but equally engaging movies depicting scenes of horror or physical activity.

"These changes in the brain's behavioral control circuits were specific to the repeated exposure to the violent clips," said co-researcher Joy Hirsch. "Even when the level of action in the control movies was comparable, we just did not observe the same changes in brain response that we did when the subjects viewed the violent clips."

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Source: Columbia University Medical Center