Violent Video Games On The Brain: What It Looks Like, with Dr. Lisa Strohman

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

It’s clear that technology and gadgets have changed radically over the last 30 years. In fact, the evolution happens so quickly that it’s difficult to determine the safety of new tech before it goes to market. In the second episode of a series with psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Strohman, Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen discuss what the scientific research says about how certain gadgets and video games affect our children.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Welcome back. We are still here with our amazing guest, Dr. Lisa Strohman and she's got a great book, Unplug. We've been talking about devices and the effect on the brain, especially with children. This has been really fascinating to me and we want to talk about how gadgets have changed. How have you seen them change over the last 30 years?
Dr Lisa Strohman: Wow, that's a big, tall order. A lot of has happened in the last 30 years. First of all, we have created such small microcomputers today that we can basically walk around with a processing unit in our hip pocket. It's more powerful than the computers that we had in governmental agencies 30 years ago. We think that that magnitude and the shift between how much data we can process, how quickly we can process it and how accessible it is, is probably the most important part in that change that's happened because it's given access to everyone.
Tana Amen: You basically have everything at your fingertips all the time, and this is also with kids. Most parents don't put controls on their phones.
Dr Daniel Amen: Let me tell a story. When I was growing up, which was a lot longer ago than you guys, I mean we really had typewriters and you'd write things by hand. And I just published a book this year called Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades. Well, the first version of that I wrote in 1982, longhand. I actually wrote it longhand and it was such a wonderful process, but I hated editing it. And that's when the personal computer just came out, and I asked my dad for $1,700 so I could get a Sanyo personal computer. They had the little floppy disk, and it changed my life in a good way. I could edit it. My productivity went way up.
Tana Amen: Yeah, sure. There's good and bad. I mean, obviously, we have a lot of great things with technology. We just have to be careful with it.
Dr Daniel Amen: But in 1987, when my oldest son, Antony, was 10, Atari came into the house. I was stationed in Barstow, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and he had been a really good student and now when Atari came, he was not a good student anymore. And he and I started fighting about it because he couldn't stop. Because initially I'm like, "This game is so cool. I didn't have games like that when I was a child." And I thought it was so cool, but I could see its addictive quality. And also being a child psychiatrist, I had just finished my child psychiatry training. I went, "These things are bad for children because they can addict them." And that's with the old video games that would do ping, pong, ping, pong, right? I mean, they were completely boring.
And since then, it has just gone exponentially crazy where you can play these 3D games on your phone that totally wear out the pleasure centers in your brain. They actually purposely addict them, wear out the pleasure centers and they're stealing the attention of our children.
Tana Amen: It's amazing. Dr. Strohman, are you familiar with the work of Colonel David Grossman?
Dr Lisa Strohman: I have. Yes, I've heard of him.
Tana Amen: On combat?
Dr Lisa Strohman: Yes.
Tana Amen: I read that book. I mean, it's weird that I read it, but I read it more from a martial artist standpoint. But the part in there that stuck out to me that I actually brought into one of our books and I talked to Daniel about, that I thought was fascinating, was when he actually talked about video games and the violence in video games, and how it's affecting the youth, and how it was so effective with school shooters and kids who had never picked up a weapon. They pick up a weapon, they walk in, they can hit a moving target perfectly. And it didn't make any sense because law enforcement trains and they can't do that, right? It's very difficult to do. And how because of that the military had adopted the Atari, because you brought up Atari, they adopted that technology to train military, to train police officers. I thought that was fascinating. Do you know anything about that?
Dr Lisa Strohman: I do. I think that a lot of parents don't recognize, A, that there's differences in video gaming, right? There's nonviolent and there's violent video gaming. When you put in an escalation where you're putting in a first-person shooter or you're teaching kids, it is that fight or flight mechanism in the brain. And Dr. Amen would talk more to that. But what you see is that the brain basically gets into this hyper vigilant state, and the fear that I have and when I see with kids is there such a desensitization that happens over time.
I was on a national board for the American Psychological Association. I was on this commission that looked at violent video games. And I want to say that probably everyone that was actually on the committee was over the age of 65 and none of them had ever played these video games. And so I remember sitting in the room and I said, "Have any of you actually played Grand Theft Auto or have you played Halo?" "No." They're looking at this in these micro-moments instead of like really understanding what it is like for these kids to jump in to video game, get shot.
Fortnite is a perfect example of a more recent one where you can shoot someone, you can hide from someone and then if you get killed, there's no blood. What message is that sending to the kids from a psychological perspective.
Tana Amen: That it's not that bad.
Dr Lisa Strohman: Right. And then can you ghost them, right? If somebody kills you, now you can actually follow and float through the game with the person that you just killed, right? And you can IM, and depending on what messaging that you're using, you can talk to them and harass them the entire time. The psychological and emotional warfare, on top of just the play, is so massive. And I think that parents don't understand... For instance, Discord is the app is 90 million kids strong. That's a lot of people on a gaming platform app that's outside of Xbox, PlayStation, Atari, right? It is outside of even the platform so that these kids can have private conversations and communicate with one another.
Tana Amen: Right. They're conversing. And the thing is, is what you said is so interesting because these are kids with developing brains, which is what you've been trying to say. These are not adults that are already developed and have their moral compass set, who are already pretty set in their ways. These are kids who are very impressionable.
Dr Daniel Amen: And 9 out of 10 teenagers in the UK have no purpose. If you put these devices that change your brain into the heads of kids who have no purpose, their purpose is to just play the game. Can you help us with what is the research really say about devices and video games for children? Because I mean-
Tana Amen: People push on it.
Dr Daniel Amen: ... I have this mindset this is a bad idea. But you'll hear periodically research come out that says, "Oh, no, it's really good for them. They're learning new skills. They're becoming more dextrous." Although, I read one study where the thumb representation in the brain has become larger since these video games, and that's good if you're a monkey. It may not be good if you're not a monkey. But could you just help us? Where's the research today on the impact of technology and violent video games on developing brains?
Dr Lisa Strohman: The research is extremely clear that violent video games creates damage in a negative way to kids. It creates a higher anxiety, it creates higher depression. And it also, to your point, morphs the brain and aggrandized as those areas of the brain that give you the potential to be more aggressive, less empathetic, all of the things that you do not want your child to be in these developing periods of time. The challenge with the "research", and I use air quotes around the research in that sense, is that some of the research that comes out that gets presented to me.
I'm in the middle of a talk and I'm talking about technology and the impact on the brain and here's the realities, and somebody said, "Well, there was just a study at UCI that stated that it's not really that bad." I said, "Well, I'd like to see who sponsored that research. I'd like to see who they asked." And of course, they asked 10 to 15 year olds, "Hey, do you feel bad after you use your device?" And did they not only start with 2000 kids, they publish the results of only 366 of them. And it's self-report. That is not science. That is not something that should go out and hit mainstream media and say, "Oh by the way, it's really not as bad for their brains." Totally different.
Tana Amen: Agreed.
Dr Lisa Strohman: And so you can speak to that, but that's very frustrating to me on what hits mainstream media and what doesn't. And I feel that the industry itself has such a strong lobbying arm. It's very complicated in how when it goes to violent video games, to your point; how that is linked in to the CDC, I work with Dr. James Mercy there, in terms of their ability to do research on guns and violence and that's attached to this gaming industry. There's a lot of political issues on the backend that people don't recognize, so that's to me why we're not seeing more of it. But when you do get in and you look hindsight to kids that are on violent video games, it is bad, all bad.
Dr Daniel Amen: Do you remember, I think it was 1997, there was a cartoon in Japan, a Nintendo Pokemon cartoon, and they had an explosion, a specific sequence of red, white and yellow lights that flashed at four and a half flashes per second, and all of a sudden 729 Japanese kids ended up in emergency rooms with new onset seizures. And it was that study that for me went, "Okay, these things are not good." Because there's no neuroscience on, is this good for a developing brain or is it bad? There's no study on it that's published ahead of time.
We've unleashed these devices onto a developing population, and what we now know is the incidents of depression in teenagers is skyrocketing. The incidence of ADD has more than tripled since 1992, and I think it's just incumbent upon us to look at, well, what's changing in our society besides taking fat out of our diet, which is a bad thing, putting these addictive devices in the hands of developing brains?
Tana Amen: I agree. In addition to the idea of them being addictive to kids, you and I were having a conversation prior to us starting about the regulation and what people are allowed to put on there. What was the the image that would pop up and give the message for kids to kill themselves?
Dr Daniel Amen: Momo.
Tana Amen: Momo.
Dr Daniel Amen: There's controversy about whether that actually happened.
Tana Amen: Right. But my point is... And then there was the other one, when my daughter was in grade school, she was an elementary school. There was Talking Tom but then Talking Angela came out and they got busted for actually viewing children, for peeping in on children. That one got shut down. All of these things, that some of them might be real, some of them not, but we know there's enough of it that is real, right? What do you do?
Dr Daniel Amen: All right. We have to stop, but let's talk about the dangers-
Tana Amen: And what do you do?
Dr Daniel Amen: ... to children and what do you do? The dangers of digital technology.
Tana Amen: And how do you protect them?
Dr Daniel Amen: Unplug is Dr. Strohman's book that you can get on Amazon, dcakids, so D as in dog, C as in Charlie, A as in apple, You can actually... I was looking this up, it was really cool, sign up for a program to actually learn how to, and Dr. Strohman's program will help you really do digital supervision on your kids. This is so important. If you have a child and you like the child; see if you don't like the child, that's different; but if you like the child and you want to protect that child, it's just absolutely essential for you to look into this, Stay with us.
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