This is a classic silly season ‘Oh my god! The world’s coming to an end! The skies will rain fire and brimstone!’ story.
Playing violent video games will shrink your brain. Or at least the hippocampus, which is widely believed to be the part of the brain responsible for laying down memories, though to be honest it’s a hung jury on that idea, as the quote at the end will tell you.
Any road up, some pointyheads in Montreal did brain scans on 17 habitual gamers, and 16 non-gamers. I don’t know what possessed them to do this, but that’s pointyheads for you, and I always enjoy people doing bits of research just because it seems a good idea. They found that if you spend all your time nuking cities and/or fighting zombies, your hippocampus is smaller than that of your more peace-loving peers.
As you’re expecting, I’ll take a scalpel to this and do a rough and dirty dissection. First up, we have tiddly little sample sizes. Vanishingly small. Hard to attach any significance at all; no, it’s impossible.
Then we have the perpetual thorny question of causal relationship, as opposed to a casual association. There’s no inherent control, is there? Maybe people with a naturally small hippocampus are psychologically more inclined to gaming. It’s the gaming that’s then the result, not the Incredible Shrinking Brain that hasn’t actually shrunk at all. We don’t know if the hippocampus shrank, or was already a tiddler.
I’ll let Andrew Przybylaski (crazy name, crazy guy) sum it up. He’s a research psychologist based in Oxford, so may know whereof he speaks.
‘It’s simply not true that we have any idea of what the functional implications of a bigger or smaller hippocampus are.’ This is the scientific newspeak for ‘Those guys are talking out of their arses.’
There was another ‘We’re doomed! The end of the World is nigh! Repent all ye sinners!’ story this week too, and not all that surprisingly it came from the Land of Oz, where many weird things happen not least because there are lots of things that will try to kill you. It now appears that it’s not only sharks and Portuguese men’o’war that are a threat in the coastal waters. Beware the ‘Flesh Eating Sea Fleas’ too. Or as scientists call them, lysianassid amphipods. Since they have never previously been known to bite humans, if I lived near the beach near Melbourne, I’d not be losing any sleep over this.