We Are What we Practice

One of the Principles of the Way of the Brain is that We Are Not Alone -- our brains are changing and evolving not only from what goes on inside our heads, but also from adding in the influences we interact with on the "outside".

Here is one research report that describes what these influences can look like in "real life".

Craig Anderson from Iowa State University along with his colleagues, looked at the effects of playing violent video games on the amount of aggressive behaviour, aggressive thoughts, aggressive emotions, physical arousal, empathy or desensitization ("numbing"), and positive social behaviour. (Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review, 2010)

Now, what makes this study interesting and important is that it wasn't just one study, looking at 30 or 40 children. It was what is called a "meta-analysis", which is a combined analysis across all the available studies looking at the same question. In this case, the authors were combining findings across 130 studies. That represented 130,000 children.

The other interesting feature of this study is that they also looked across cultures -- to see if the effects were found not just for kids in North America, but in an eastern culture as well - in this case, Japan. AND they didn't look just at short-term effects (is the child more aggressive during the hour after playing?), they also looked at longer-term effects (does it last across days or weeks).

The paper actually makes for some interesting reading about the issues and past research -- so if this is an area that grabls you, please click on the Reference link to go to the paper itself.

For those with limited time or who are just curious, here are the main findings:

  • There were significant effects for all 6 outcome variables. Translation: Exposure to violent video games looks like it is a risk factor for causing:
    • Increased aggressive behavior
    • Increased aggressive thought
    • Increased aggressive emotion
    • Decreased empathy/increased "numbness" to other people's feelings
    • Decreased positive social behaviors
  • Cultural differences did not appear to be very large -- these games look like they have the same kinds of effects no matter what culture the child was from. (And that mkes sense if it's a "teaching" of the brain, doesn't it?)
  • There was no evidence that girls and boys are any different in how susceptible they are to these effects.

So what does this mean to us? Why is important even if we dn't have children or don't play aggressive video games?

It's important because of its evidence about how our brains -- and therefore our behaviour, our emotions, out thoughts, our relationships -- are influenced by what we do.

What we practice (ouside as well as inside!) is what we become. Not just a new age kind of statement, but directly reflecting the exercising of brain circuits.

You know what’s really exciting about video games is you don’t just
interact with the game physically—you’re not just moving your hand
on a joystick, but you’re asked to interact with the game psychologically
and emotionally as well. You’re not just watching the characters
on screen; you’re becoming those characters.
—Nina Huntemann, Game Over (emphasis added)

So-- what are you practicing to become? 8^)