Ian Cleary

Computer Games – Just a bit of harmless fun?

I just know I’m going to sound like a bit of a ‘Grandad’ here but of late I’ve been thinking about the impact of computer games on health.

A lot of the work that I do revolves around retraining the body’s dysfunctional stress response.

The flight or fight response is brilliant for getting us primed for physical action. The stress hormones of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released and get the blood pumping and heart beating. As this is seen as a dangerous situation, the body prioritises energy to the limbs. In fact any bodily function that is not needed is put on the back burners. So things like your digestion, your immune system, even your normal brain function takes up energy. These systems function are momentarily lowered to ensure all energy is used to get you safe. This is a brilliant system for acute stress. We can do without them briefly. However the impact of chronic stress can be disasterous. (Stress can be physical mental or emotional). We just don’t seem to be designed for chronic stress.

So that’s what’s going on physiologically when we go into ‘Flight or Fight’. Now think of computer games. We go into the same flight response. What is the impact of children spending hours and hours playing computer games in this stressed state?

There is another potential impact as well. New understandings of how the brain works indicates that our experiences changes the neurons in our brain. (A concept known as Neural plasticity) If we see someone doing something, the corresponding parts in our own brain light up as if we are doing it (Mirror Neurons). If we see it enough it is like we are doing it.

Computer games are no longer a yellow pac man eating pills and chasing monsters. It is so life like and you are ‘in the picture’ in what psychologists call being ‘associated’. So with the shooting games children are learning in graphic detail what it is like to kill someone (but without the emotion or consequences).

New brain retraining programmes are highlighting the positive impact of computers to rewire the brain. So some caution should be exercised to ensure our children’s constantly changing brain are protected.

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