Playing computer games makes brains feel and think alike

November 21, 2013

Scientists have discovered that playing computer games can bring players' emotional responses and brain activity into unison. By measuring the activity of facial muscles and imaging the brain while gaming, the group found out that people go through similar emotions and display matching brainwaves. The study of Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT researchers is published in PLOS ONE.

"It's well known that people who communicate face-to-face will start to imitate each other. People adopt each other's poses and gestures, much like infectious yawning. What is less known is that the very physiology of interacting people shows a type of mimicry – which we call synchrony or linkage," explains Michiel Sovijärvi-Spapé.

In the study, test participants play a called Hedgewars, in which they manage their own team of animated hedgehogs and in turns shoot the opposing team with ballistic artillery. The goal is to destroy the opposing team's hedgehogs. The research team varied the amount of competitiveness in the gaming situation: players teamed up against the computer and they were also pinned directly against each other.

The players were measured for facial muscle reactions with facial electromyography, or fEMG, and their were measured with electroencephalography, EEG.

"Replicating previous studies, we found linkage in the fEMG: two players showed both similar emotions and similar brainwaves at similar times. We further observed a linkage also in the brainwaves with EEG," says Sovijärvi-Spapé.

A striking discovery indicates further that the more competitive the gaming gets, the more in sync are the of the players. The test subjects were to report emotions themselves, and were associated with the linkage effect.

"Although counterintuitive, the discovered effect increases as a game becomes more competitive. And the more competitive it gets, the more the players' begin to reflect each other. All the while their experiences of negative emotions increase." The results present promising leads for further study.

"Feeling others' emotions could be particularly beneficial in competitive settings: the linkage may enable one to better anticipate the actions of opponents."

Another interpretation suggested by the group is that the physical linkage of emotion may work to compensate a possibly faltering social bond while competing in a gaming setting.

"Since our participants were all friends before the game, we can speculate that the linkage is most prominent when a friendship is 'threatened' while competing against each other," says Sovijärvi-Spapé.

Explore further: Manipulative and empathetic people both adept at reading emotions

More information: Spapé, Michiel M., Kivikangas, J. M., Järvelä, S., Kosunen, I., Jacucci, G. & Ravaja, G. (2013). Keep your opponents close: Social context affects EEG and fEMG linkage in a turn-based computer game, PLOS ONE dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078795

Related Stories

Manipulative and empathetic people both adept at reading emotions

October 28, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—People shouldn't assume that someone who can easily read their feelings always has their best interests at heart.

Emotionally intelligent people may influence the emotions of others based on their own goals

October 23, 2013
Emotionally intelligent people have the ability to manipulate others to satisfy their own interest, according to new research published October 23 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, by Yuki Nozaki and colleagues at Kyoto ...

Higher emotional intelligence leads to better decision-making

November 19, 2013
The anxiety people feel making investment decisions may have more to do with the traffic they dealt with earlier than the potential consequences they face with the investment, but not if the decision-maker has high emotional ...

Why video games make healthy stocking stuffers

November 15, 2013
Don't feel guilty for stuffing Sonic in the Santa sack - video games can be good for your children's mental health.

Mindful individuals less affected by immediate rewards

November 1, 2013
A new study from the University of Toronto Scarborough shows that people who are aware of and their own thoughts and emotions are less affected by positive feedback from others.

Mimicry not needed for the recognition of emotions

November 5, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—'Mimicry', the imitation of the facial expression of the other person, does not play a major role in the ability to recognise the emotion of another person. This is apparent from research conducted by Agneta ...

Recommended for you

How the shape and size of your face relates to your sexuality

September 19, 2017
Men and women with shorter, wider faces tend to be more sexually motivated and to have a stronger sex drive than those with faces of other dimensions. These are the findings from a study led by Steven Arnocky of Nipissing ...

Behavioral therapy increases connectivity in brains of people with OCD

September 19, 2017
UCLA researchers report that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, when treated with a special form of talk therapy, demonstrate distinct changes in their brains as well as improvement in their symptoms.

Cognitive scientists find that people can more easily communicate warmer colors than cool ones

September 18, 2017
The human eye can perceive millions of different colors, but the number of categories human languages use to group those colors is much smaller. Some languages use as few as three color categories (words corresponding to ...

Why bad sleep doesn't always lead to depression

September 18, 2017
Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

People with schizophrenia have threefold risk of dying

September 18, 2017
People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to die, and die younger, than the general population, indicating a need for solutions to narrow this gap, according to research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

Happiness is not determined by childhood biomarkers

September 18, 2017
Happiness is not determined by childhood biological markers such as height or body fat, according to a team of European researchers involving UCL.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.