Stimulating area of the brain can reduce aggressive behavior elicited by violent video games

A specific type of brain stimulation has been found to reduce unprovoked aggression that results from playing violent video games, according to a study recently published in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience.

Many of today’s most popular video games encourage players to violently and graphically bring realistic human-like characters to their gruesome demise, using a range of deadly weapons. Although fans of such video games argue that it is just “harmless fun”, some experts disagree.

A multitude of studies provide evidence that playing violent video games increases violent and destructive behaviour. In 2015 the American Psychological Association published a report stating “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour”.

Currently, little is understood about the neural systems that underpin the link between playing violent video games and aggression. Part of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) known as the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (rVLPFC) is recognised as a key region for controlling risk-taking behaviour, motor control, emotions and cognitive control in general. Previous research has demonstrated that stimulating the rVLPFC reduces aggression caused by social exclusion. Suggesting that stimulation of the rVLPFC could have the potential to reduce other forms of induced aggression.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy employed a neuromodulatory technique known as transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) to investigate how the stimulation of brain networks could be used to reduce aggression.

Seventy-two Italian university students took part in the study. Participants played either a violent or non-violent video game and were then given real or fake tDCS over the rVLPFC. In this study tDCS modified brain excitability by increasing the firing rate of neurons.

The results showed that participants who received fake tDCS and played violent video games displayed increased unprovoked aggression compared to those who had played a non-violent game. Participants who had received real tDCS showed no difference in provoked or unprovoked aggression regardless of whether they had played a violent or non-violent video game. There was no difference in the effect of tDCS on provoked aggression, suggesting that provocation is a more powerful factor in producing aggressive behavior than exposure to violent media.

Overall, the results show that in violent video game players cortical stimulation over the rVLPFC reduced unprovoked aggression. The findings suggest that by controlling the activity in an area of the brain crucial for regulating negative feelings and impulsive behavior, the link between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior can be broken down.