Are video games driving you crazy? It’s physical!

Do the metallic sounds coming out of the video game your children are riveted to give you stress? It's not surprising! Odrée Dionne-Fournelle, who is completing her bachelor's degree in orthophonics at Université de Montréal, has just demonstrated that the music in video games causes a measurable physiological reaction in the body: it raises the level of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.

This could be harmful to your health: in fact, people who have naturally high cortisol levels present a risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic stress.

An earlier American study suggested that the effects of video games on the body were similar to those observed in stress situations, i.e., a rise in blood pressure and heart and respiratory rate. But it is the first time anyone has gone to the source of the problem. “One day, one of my professors told me she felt stressed when her son played on the computer. That's when I became interested in the sound aspect of games,” explains Odrée Dionne-Fournelle.

Fifty-two men, aged 19 to 30 years, sat down at the terminal for the experiment. In this study, they were asked to play intensive sessions of QUAKE III, a pursuit game that is very well known to gamers. The idea is to kill robots. One group played with music, and the other without. Measurements of salivary cortisol confirmed Ms. Dionne-Fournelle's hypothesis: fifteen minutes after the end of the test, the “silent” players secreted less cortisol than the other players. “The music-free group posted similar performances to the other group, but several players indicated they found it strange to play in silence. Even though the stress caused by the music is associated with the positive stimulus the players seek, the body cannot distinguish it from a harmful noise that causes negative stress,” the researcher notes.

The results are convincing, but still not enough to make a case against Super Mario and his friends. “In order to avoid introducing a bias in the survey, we only tested people who were playing for the first time: so we don't know how habitual players react. Either they no longer respond to stress caused by the music through a kind of habituation effect, or their cortisol levels remain higher.”

Researcher: Odrée Dionne-Fournelle
Direction: Sylvie Hébert, sylvie.hebert@umontreal.ca
Telephone: (514) 340-3540
Email: odree.dionne-fournelle@umontreal.ca



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