Thursday, June 5, 2008

Video Games and RAD

I have always loved Nancy Thomas' website
She has this article written by Dr. Daniel Amen a leading neuropsychiatrist. His site is

Video Games And Being All Thumbs May Not Be A Good Thing
by Daniel Amen M.D.
The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.
The brain is everywhere there is news about people. This week I had lunch with a friend who was concerned that her husband allowed their son to play video games for an extended period of time. As a father of three children and a child psychiatrist I have thought a lot about video games over the past 15 years. At first, I found them great fun to play; then I started to worry. Here's why. People playing action video games have been studied using brain imaging techniques that look at blood flow and activity patterns. Video games have been found to work in an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, one of the pleasure centers in the brain. In fact, it is the same part of the brain that lights up when we inject a person with cocaine.
My experience with patients, and one of my own children, is that they tend to get hooked on the games and play so much that it can deteriorate their school work and social time. Like a drug, some children and adults actually get hooked on them. There is also a scientific literature that reports video games may increase seizure frequency in people who are sensitive to them.
You may remember in December 1997 there was a Japanese Nintendo cartoon that had an explosion of red, white and yellow lights that trigger 730 Japanese children to have new onset seizures. The condition is called photosenstive seizures (seizures triggered by light). I often think video games trigger subclinical seizures in vulnerable kids and adults causing behavior or learning problems.
I recently had a patient who I have been treating for several years. It took me quite a while to get his meds and school situation stabilized. He was doing great! Then he went to stay with his dad for 3 weeks and he totally relapsed (dad let him watch all the TV and play all the video games he wanted). This 11 year old boy reverted to his nasty behavior and actually started to pull out his own hair (a sign of anxiety and compulsiveness). When we stopped both TV and video games he quickly improved.
In another study, video games were found to increase the thumb representation in the brain. That may be helpful if we were monkeys in trees, but not much use to humans who need their brains for other functions. When Nintendo came into my home when my son was in the 6th grade (15 years ago). I noticed over time that he played more and more, even when he was told to stop, his grades went down and his level of defiance went up. After 2 years of difficult behavior I took the games out of the house. Thankfully, my girls have never been very interested.
There you have it -- one child psychiatrist's view of video games. I do not think they give kids or adults any long term value. They do not help you get most jobs and I think they train the brain to need more and more stimulation to be able to focus. There are many reasons why the incidence in learning and behavior problems has doubled in the last 20 years; I believe video games may be part of the puzzle.
As a neuropsychiatrist for the past 20 years my clinics have amassed the world's largest database of brain scans related to behavior, more than 21,000. The brain is involved in everything we do and must be considered whenever we look at the motivation or reason behind human behavior.
"Brain In The News" is offered as a free service to people in the media to help them educate the public on how the brain relates to our behavior. To subscribe, visit You can see over 300 color 3D brain SPECT images at
Daniel Amen, M.D. Amen Clinics, Inc.Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatryand Human Behavior UC, Irvine School of Medicine
Visit the Amen Clinic Bookstore at for all of Dr. Amen's Books, Videos and more. Also check out
Amen Clinics, Inc. 4019 Westerly Place, Suite 100 Newport Beach, CA 92660Phone: (949) 266-3726 Fax: (949) 266-3766

When looking for summer activities for our kids video game time needs to be really limited.


Mrs. Incredible said...

I find that our ds with RAD behaves much worse when allowed even minimal amounts of tv (PBS only) or video games (educational only). I think part of that is the effect on the brain, and part is that it is treated like a special treat, and thus he will try to sabotage it. While I really enjoy many video games myself, I find that some games can make me extremely nauseous and trigger migraines.

BTW, the blog (of mine) that you visited was a baby shower for a friend.. no more babies for me! You can visit me at

Brenda said...

Mrs. Incredible.

LOL.Thanks for filling me in on the address. I will be visiting. My boys are drawn to violent video games and tv. So if I do allow it then the battles over buying, rent or watching which things starts up again. We do allow some tv. Video games only on weekends and for 30 minutes.

Emiley said...

Ouch....this one hit home. I can hear my boys downstairs on the computer at this very moment. :-) Thanks for the reminder that I obviously needed today. (and all summer long!)

Nora said...

I met Dr. Amen at a lecture he gave and then participated in his brain study of injured and uninjured brains. I learned a lot about the damage that can occur even from normal children's bangs to the head - the kind that happen to most kids who engage in sports.

If you are interested in the brain and how it works, I highly recommend reading ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. It's on the NY Times Bestseller list and it's a wonderful book. Dr. Taylor's talk at TED dot com is also AMAZING! Oprah interviewed Dr. Taylor and you can check that out on And Time Magazine named Dr. T one of the 100 Most Influential people in the world. Having read her book, I can see why all the attention.

Dr. Amen's book is brain science and it's great at that. Dr. Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist, but what she writes about is the science and much more. She really cracks the code to understand how our brains (right and left hemispheres) work and she explains how we can get into our right brain and be happier and more joyful. Aside from any of the science, My Stroke of Insight is also just a great story.

Brenda said...

Thanks so much for sharing. I clicked your name to go to your blog and you have none! You sound like you have a lot to share. Maybe you should consider starting a blog! I will check out those books! I might not read them for awhile (working on Masters) but I will get them for breaks!