Press, University Say Study Shows Link Between Gaming And Alzheimer's; Spoiler: No It Doesn't
from the forget-it dept
If I’ve learned any single thing covering technology news it’s that you can blame absolutely anything on video games. Mass violence? Games. Failure at professional sports? Pssh, games, yo. Love life not as spicy as you might like? Those games, those games. But a study that supposedly claims a link between video games and Alzheimer’s Disease? Come on.
“Call of Duty increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease”, said the Telegraph. “Video game link to psychiatric disorders suggested by study”, reported the Guardian. The Daily Mail posed the problem as a question, “Could video games increase your risk of Alzheimer’s?”, reminding us that whenever a news headline asks a question, the answer is no.
We know that when science news is hyped, most of the hype is already present in the press releases issued by universities. This case is no exception – the press release was issued by the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, and unsurprisingly it focuses almost entirely on the tenuous link to Alzheimer’s disease.
Tenuous is being exceptionally kind in this case. The study in question, produced in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, barely focused on any link between gaming and the disease, in fact. Instead, the team of Canadian researchers were simply studying the difference in brain-wave activity with groups of gamers and non-gamers. They noticed specifically a significant difference in the activity of one type of brain-wave with gamers, N2PC, which can have an effect on attention spans. So, how did we get from that to a link to Alzheimer’s? Were there clinical tests done? Was the team of researchers even in any way focused on the most famous form of dementia?
No. Instead, the article describes the methodology for reaching the conclusion of a link thusly:
1. The type of learning shown by the gamers has been associated in previous studies with increased use of a brain region called the caudate nucleus
2. Increased use of the caudate nucleus can be associated with reduced volume of the hippocampus
3. Reduced volume of the hippocampus can be associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
4. Therefore (take a deep breath) video gaming could increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
That’s three, three associations of mere correlation at best, with not even a shred of evidence for causality. And from that we get not only press reports of a link, which I can understand because the major media groups in Western culture have proven to be more interested in sensationalism than stuff that actually exists, but university institutions pushing out press releases to feed the hounds? That’s not only wrong, it’s borderline character-assassination on the wider gaming industry. Sadly, even some on the research team have gotten in on the act, likely in the hopes of generating press coverage of the study.
The press release also includes a statement from the lead researcher that is a clear exaggeration. Dr Gregory West is quoted as saying “we also found that gamers rely on the caudate nucleus to a greater degree than non-gamers”. Actually they didn’t find this at all, because their study didn’t measure activity in the caudate nucleus. Instead it measured a type of behaviour that previous studies have associated with activity in the caudate nucleus. There is a world of difference between these two, and readers would do well to take these latest claims with a generous helping of salt.
No, man! Salt intake is associated with water retention, which is associated with bloating, and weight-gain can be a factor in spousal infedelity, therefore salt leads to my wife cheating on me if I take these grains you prescribe!