Posts Tagged ‘action video games’

Less Hippocampus, More Caudate Nucleus

January 24, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor.
Bohbot is concerned that the conditions of modern Life are leading us to flex the hippocampus less while spurring us to rely on the caudate nucleus. She says, “Maybe in the past we never had to go on autopilot. Having jobs in one location and lives being more habitual is new. Industrialization learned to capitalize on the habit-memory-learning system.” HM is in strong agreement with Dr. Bohbot.

Chronic stress, untreated depression, insomnia, and alcohol abuse all can shrink hippocampal volume. Anxiety alone has been shown to impact the spatial learning and memory of rats. Stress and depression seem to affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, whereas exercise seems to improve learning, memory and resistance to depression, which spurs a proliferation of new neurons. Patients with PTSD have been shown to have lower hippocampal volume. One of the consequences of effective treatment for this disorder such as the use of antidepressants and changes in environment, is increased hippocampal volume.

Bohbot has been led by the widespread prevalence of these conditions to be concerned that by the time children enter young adulthood, they might already have relatively shrunken hippocampal volume that makes them susceptible to cognitive and emotional impairments and behavioral problems. An over reliance on stimulus-response navigation strategies seems connected to a host of destructive yet seemingly unrelated behaviors. Because the circuit is located in the striatum, a brain area involved in addiction, Bohbot started to wonder: Would people who rely on a response strategy to navigate show any difference in substance abuse from those who relied on spatial strategies? In 2013 she published a study of 55 young adults that showed those who relied on response strategies in navigating had double the amount of lifetime alcohol consumption, in addition to more use of cigarettes and marijuana. In a different study of 255 children, she found that those with ADHD symptoms primarily rely on caudate nucleus stimulus strategies. Recently, Bohbot and Greg West showed that ninety hours of in-lab action video games will shrink the hippocampus of young adults who used their caudate nucleus. This is the first clear evidence that the activities we engage in can have negative impact on the hippocampus.

In 2017, Bohbot along with ten researchers published a report called, “Global Determinants of Navigational Ability,’ in which they looked at the performance of 2.5 million people globally on a virtual spatial navigation task. Then they broke the data down to understand whether there were similar profiles in cognitive abilities among countries. The data are that spatial navigation ability starts declining in early adulthood, around nineteen years of age, and steadily slips in old age. People from rural ares were significantly better at the game. When it came to countries themselves, Australians, South Africans, and North American showed generally good spatial orientation skills, but the real outliers were Nordic countries.