Video games 'can alter children's brains'
Published 14/10/2011 | 08:45
CHILDREN should "feel the grass under their feet" rather than play addictive computer games which can harm their mental development, a leading scientist has said.
Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institution, said spending too much time staring at computer screens can cause physical changes in the brain that lead to attention and behaviour problems.
Technology that plays strongly on the senses – like video games – can literally "blow the mind" by temporarily or permanently deactivating certain nerve connections in the brain, the Baroness said.
She told the Daily Telegraph last night: "The human brain has evolved to adapt to the environment. It therefore follows that if the environment is changing, it will have an impact on your brain.
"If you play computer games to the exclusion of other things this will create a new environment that will have new effects ... every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."
Giving a speech earlier yesterday about the addictiveness of screen technologies at the opening of a new £2.5 million science centre at the private Sherbourne Girls' school in Dorset, the Baroness urged pupils “to be outside, to climb trees and feel the grass under your feet and the sun on your face".
"Screen technologies cause high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more screen-based activity, the Baroness said.
The average child will spend almost 2,000 hours in front of a screen between their tenth and eleventh birthdays, she added.
Comparing the dangers to the lack of awareness about the health risks of smoking in the 1950s, she said playing too many computer games could cause a shorter attention span and more reckless behaviour in children.
Several scientific studies have suggested that playing an excessive number of computer games or spending too much time surfing the internet can have a physical impact on the brain.
A paper published earlier the summer in the PLoS ONE journal indicated that internet addiction could rewire brain structures in the inner brain, and even cause shrinkage in grey matter.
Another study by Japanese scientists ten years ago warned that because video games only stimulate the brain regions responsible for vision and movement, other parts of the mind responsible for behaviour, emotion and learning could become underdeveloped.
But other scientists have claimed that certain games can help the brain in a variety of ways such as treating post-traumatic stress disorder, boosting intelligence and developing the memory.
Jenny Dwyer, Sherborne Girls’ Headmistress, said: "Some of Baroness Greenfield’s views are controversial, which is a great thing for future classroom discussions.
"We know that her thoughts on how modern technology is changing the way we think and feel are going to provoke some lively debate among the staff and girls."