Everything You Know Is Wrong, Part 7

17-365 Brain Power

Apparently, knowledge is not a solid rock but a vast expanse of shifting sands. A wise man once said, “There is enough evidence in the universe to prove anything,” and he might have had a point there. Another wise man said, “The ideal consumer is a confused consumer.”

Take video games, for example. Parents buy them and children play them, so both are consumers of this product. Over the past few years, many people have become convinced that video game-playing is an obesity villain. Time after time, it has been shown that, in childhood obesity terms, the sedentary “activity” of playing video games is vastly inferior to the actual activity of running around and playing real games.

Douglas Bushong, on the other hand, speaks eloquently of the many good aspects of video games, especially as learning tools. The benefits can be many, and Bushong even goes so far as to say that…

[…] a properly nurtured gaming experience can create an addiction to learning.

When, because of widespread hard-drug addiction, researchers began to concentrate on the human brain’s reward circuitry, this gave a head start to other researchers who were interested in the effects of video games. Addiction is very much related to dopamine, and so are video games.

Citing science and technology author Steven Johnson, Bushong says,

Research has shown that dopamine, commonly associated with the reward mechanism in the brain, conditions us to seek out the conditions that have rewarded us in the past… Johnson suggests that, given most games are filled with clearly defined rewards, it makes sense that games would trigger the same biological motivations as addicting drugs.

Many health professionals and laypersons actually accept that video games can be just as addictive as any other thing that has been defined as addictive. But there is good news. Again building on the work of Johnson, Bushong points out:

As long as the rewards are clearly defined, players are willing to spend 90% of their time frustrated to get to the 10% of time where they are rewarded.

Nine parts frustration to one part satisfaction is a fairly stringent ratio. It seems like tolerating such a large proportion of frustration would be a useful skill for anyone trying to get a handle on life. Habits of mind carry over into other sections of the personality. Someone who decides to get unhooked from their biggest problem food is going to experience a great deal of frustration during the withdrawal stage. If the ability to tolerate frustration can be learned from a video game, then maybe it could help.

On the subject of bariatric surgery for teenagers, it has been shown that a food addiction forcibly quelled by this method can break out again in the form of an alcohol addiction or some other dependency that is equally destructive to the health. Recovering alcoholics are notoriously addicted to nicotine, and so on.

Of course, a person is better off living free of any dependencies. But if a certain amount of “transfer addiction” is going to occur anyway, why not transfer it to relatively harmless gaming? Could a hyperpalatable food dependency be replaced by a less destructive video game dependency? Sure, it would still be an addiction, and would still devour a large part of the person’s time and restrict socialization. But the cumulative expense in both money and pain would be much smaller.

Scientists who were hired to find out why people like to play PopCap games used psychological measurement scales to investigate the subjects’ levels of tension, anger, depression, fatigue, vigor, and confusion. Their presentation regrets the fact that very few studies set out to focus on the positive health benefits of video game playing in such areas as cancer treatment and obesity.

They say,

Therapies such as board games, card games, biofeedback, meditation and massage have been useful in helping people change brain and autonomic nervous system activity from areas associated with depression and stress to areas associated with relaxation and alertness.

Since so much pathological eating goes on under the aegis of negative emotional states like depression, stress, anger, tension, and confusion, it seems like anything that can alleviate those conditions must necessarily lead to a reduction in stress eating, comfort eating, and ultimately to a reduction in food addiction. It’s worth thinking about.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why Games Matter: The Value of Games in Education,” DouglasBushong.com, 12/10/?
Source: “A Randomized Controlled Study of the Effects of PopCap Games on Mood and Stress,” PPT Presentation
Image by Sarah G, used under its Creative Commons license.

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