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Stanford Researchers Identify Brain Region Activated by Pokémon Images

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Adults who played Pokémon extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pokémon

Adults who played Pokémon extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pokémon, according to research findings by Stanford psychologists. The findings were published online in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Jesse Gomez, who is the study's first author and a former Stanford graduate student, was himself an avid Pokémon player in his childhood. As a way of testing whether early childhood exposure is critical for developing brain regions that respond to visual stimuli, the research team performed brain scans on 11 adults who played Pokémon as 5-8 year old children between 1995 to 1998, including Gomez himself. The test subjects were shown hundreds of images, including some of Pokémon, and the results were compared to those who had never played the game.

“What was unique about Pokémon is that there are hundreds of characters, and you have to know everything about them in order to play the game successfully. The game rewards you for individuating hundreds of these little, similar‑looking characters,” Gomez said. “I figured, 'If you don't get a region for that, then it's never going to happen.'''

Because every child played the games on the Nintendo Game Boy, a device with a 4.7 x 4.3 cm screen held at arm's length, it allowed the researchers to test for eccentricity bias. This theory states that the size and location of a dedicated category region in the brain depends on how much of our visual field the objects take up, and whether the objects are in the beholder's central or peripheral vision.

What the team found is that the occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS) of these adults do indeed respond preferentially to images of Pokémon compared to those who had not played the game. Their brains reacted not only to the original Pokémon Red and Blue games but also to images from the television anime. On top of that, the location of this brain region, which typically responds to images of animals, was consistent across the Pokémon veterans.

Kalanit Grill-Spector, a professor of psychology in Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences, said that the findings are further evidence that human brains are malleable and capable of changing shape based on visual exposure from a young age. “The visual cortex is made up of hundreds of millions of neurons,” she said. “We have the capacity to encode many, many patterns in that stretch of cortex.”

Gomez said in a video posted on Stanford's YouTube channel that the findings could be useful because they suggest that visual deficits like dyslexia and face blindness could result from the way you look at things and the way your brain has been stimulated.

Source: Stanford News (Ker Than)


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