In a collaborative project, researchers from Stockholm University, Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institutet asked a group of 19 boys aged twelve to fifteen to play two different computer games, one specifically violent, the other not.
The data illustrated that after playing the violent game, the heart rates of the boys were no longer regular.
“What we saw was irregular rhythms with variations in the distances between beats,” Project Leader Professor Frank Lindblad from Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute told The Local.
The results suggest that playing violent video games has a marked influence upon the nervous system of the young gamers, potentially affecting their central physiological systems, something which Lindberg sees as a cause for concern.
“In reality, we just don’t know how this is affecting the boys, but it makes me feel very concerned and anxious when I see that crucial biological systems are being affected by something that many children and adults partake in every day,” he said.
While it is still too early to draw sweeping conclusions about the long term effects of violent video games, Lindblad hopes the findings can be used as a tool for measuring such issues in subsequent research.
Connections between violent and anti-social behavior and video games have already received considerable public attention, but the new method of analysis may allow Lindblad and his team lto ook more closely at possible links between gaming and behaviour.
“By looking at the physical effects of violent programmes, we might be able to better understand the connections,” he said.
In addition to observing the boys as they played the video games, researchers also collected data while the boys were sleeping which showed that their irregular heart rate continued during the night.
Although the boys did not report having slept badly, “this is a very notable issue,” said Lindblad.
As sleep is a crucial time for children for absorbing information received during the day, anything that might disturb normal sleeping patterns could adversely affects children’s ability to learn.
“This is certainly a very important question for future research,” noted Lindblad.
Another area highlighted for future investigation is the existence of a phenomenon known as “game addiction”, whereby individuals play computer games frequently and for long periods of time yet don’t develop any physiological side effects.
“This would suggest that the human body demonstrates an adaptability to the physical effects of gaming,” said Lindblad.
“This would lead to various questions being raised on the issue of the addictiveness of video games.”