I'm one of those 80's and 90's Pokémon lover kids. I used to love playing Pokémon whenever my parents would let me. I found Pikachu cute, and Magikarp kind of useless, although I would work my ass off on getting as many trading cards of whatever Pokémon as I could just to show them off.
I watched Detective Pikachu the day it was released and I took a good look around. My high-quality survey in the movie theater showed me almost everyone who had come to watch the movie was roughly my age. So, it is safe to say that Pokemóns has had a massive impact on our generation. After all, look at us: we're ok at watching a kids movie just to please our emotional attachments.
Have Pokémons permanently altered our brains?
According to a recent study, yes, they have!
The Pokémon Change!
Did you know that the brain evolves continuously?
You must have heard about the “use it or lose it” phenomena of evolution.
Your brain, too, functions according to that phenomena. It creates new neural pathways when you learn new skills---like playing the guitar, learning a new language, etc.---the more you practice that skill, the better you get at it because of these pathways.
So, the hours that you spent playing Pokémon during your childhood did something similar.
Furthermore, early childhood experiences also have a crucial role to play in making you who you are today. Freud has talked a lot about how early childhood experiences are critical in the formation of one’s personality.
Evidence suggests that early childhood experiences also have a part to play in your brain’s development.
Harvard Medical School had recently conducted a study and found that a monkey’s brain can dedicate parts of the brain to specific objects if they’re exposed to them from a young age.
Researchers from Stanford University wanted to test how that worked in humans.
But how did they do that?
The research aimed to address two main questions:
- Does the prolonged experience result in an informative representation for Pokémon in experienced vs. novice participants?
- Do the distributed Ventral Temporal Cortex (VTC) representations form a consistent spatial topography across the VTC in experienced versus novice participants?
They did this by showing pictures of animals, object, places, Pokémons, etc. to players and non-players while they had their brains read by an fMRI.
Why Pokémon Lovers Were the Ideal Choice?
Pokémon fans---like you and me---were the right choice because we have been exposed to the characters from a very young age and spent a considerable amount of time playing the game.
Even during the night, under the covers!
On top of that, the conditions were the same across all of us as we:
- Held the device at a similar viewing distance
- Pokémon appeared on the 2.5 cm × 2.5 cm screen
Here’s What the Study Found
Interestingly, a specific part of the brain called the occipitotemporal sulcus lit up in all the Pokémon players when they saw their beloved characters. On the other hand, for non-players, that region lit up only when they saw words, animals, and cartoons.
The scientists are calling this part of the brain the "Pokémon Region."
That’s easier to remember.
The results of this study were consistent with a theory called “eccentricity bias” which suggests that our brain dedicates certain parts to new classes of objects based on how much room they take up in your visual field.
So, a different region of our brain lights up when we view things peripherally while another lights up when we see things directly.
This means that if we had played the game on a large television, another area of our brains would have lit up on the fMRI scans.
Another thing that this study suggests is that our brain sets some of its resources aside if we come across certain images commonly---like a celebrity’s face or Bulbasaur---especially if we constantly view the images between the ages of five and eight. So, what does this nean for me?
While the study is cool, people are concerned about how games have an impact on their brains.
First of all, you don’t need to worry about how playing games affect your IQ because all the participants in the study had PhDs!
Since you were exposed to Pokémons from an early age, your brain dedicated an area to them. This means that your brain learned that Pokémons are important as you spent hours playing a game that was all about them.
This doesn’t have to be something negative because it shows that your brain develops according to:
- What is perceived as important
- What you’re exposed to during early childhood
This gives you more insight into how the human brain learns new things.
Your brain is continually evolving to making itself smarter and learning to adapt to the environment.
The human brain is capable of containing various patterns.
What was unique about Pokémons, says Gomez, 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.
The study also gives you an insight into how your brain handles rewards. This means that you can learn to use this for your benefit and ‘parent’ yourself to reach the goals you want to---like, sticking to a budget, losing weight, sticking to a goal, etc.
How Game Developers Could Use This Information?
This developmental window when a child’s brain is open to reorganization can play a crucial part in understanding childhood reading since it requires exposure to a lot of small images and elicits brain activation in predictable at an early age.
- Language learning games and apps for children of this age can help them in their schoolwork.
- Specialized games for learning a new language, reading, etc. could be highly profitable.
Visual learning plays a significant role in how children learn new things.
This could also shed light on how developers can create educational games for primary school children!