This Is Your Brain on Pokémon

Adults who played Pokémon video games extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pikachu and other characters from the series.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, help shed light on mysteries about our visual system.

The first Pokémon game was released in 1996 and played by children as young as 5 years old, many of whom continued to play later versions of the game well into their teens and even early adulthood.

The games not only exposed these children to the same characters over and over again, it rewarded them when they won a Pokémon battle or added a new character to the in-game encyclopedia called the Pokédex.

Furthermore, every child played the games on the same handheld device – the Nintendo Game Boy – which had the same small square screen and required them to hold the devices at roughly the same arm’s length. Playing Pokémon on a tiny screen means that the Pokémon characters only take up a very small part of the player’s center of view. The eccentricity bias theory thus predicts that preferential brain activations for Pokémon should be found in the part of the visual cortex that processes objects in our central, or foveal, vision.

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The occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS) of adults who played Pokémon extensively as children activated more (right) upon seeing images of Pokémon characters from their childhood videogames compared to adults who did not (left). (Image credit: Jesse Gomez)

The new findings are just the latest evidence that our brains are capable of changing in response to experiential learning from a very early age, but that there are underlying constraints hardwired into the brain that shape and guide how those changes unfold.

Read more on this story at https://news.stanford.edu/2019/05/06/regular-pokemon-players-pikachu-brain 

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