40% of Former NFL Players Had Brain Injuries

Originally posted on time.com. By Alice Park.


It's the strongest research to date that many footballers have brain injuries

For years, the NFL has stood by the contention that there is no direct evidence proving that playing football is linked to traumatic brain injury (TBI) or the devastating brain disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is increasingly being diagnosed in former players. And they were right, in a sense. The evidence that existed was circumstantial, and most involved finding signs of TBI in deceased players, making it impossible to know for sure whether their time in the league was responsible or whether other factors played a role.

But now scientists reveal the strongest link yet between playing football and trauma to the brain. In a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Vancouver, scientists led by Dr. Frank Conidi, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology, report that more than 40% of retired NFL players show evidence of abnormal brain structures. And on a series of cognitive tests the players took, half showed serious problems with executive functions such as reasoning, problem solving, planning and attention, while 45% had difficulty with learning and memory.

Conidi analyzed the brains of 40 former NFL players who played for an average of seven years in the league, and had stopped playing for less than five years. All had brain images using sophisticated MRI, and 43% showed damage to the white matter of the brain, which is responsible for connecting nerve cells among different regions. The extent of the damage was enough to be classified as traumatic brain injury. Thirty percent showed disruption of long arms that neurons use to communicate with each other — compromised connections is a leading cause of many brain disorders and the first sign of poor brain health.

Conidi found that the more years a player spent in the NFL, the more likely he was to show signs of TBI. However, the number of concussions a player had was not linked to the extent of brain injury found on the MRI. That suggests, says Conidi, that it’s not the big hits that generate so much attention that is the only culprit for brain injury, but also the cumulative effects of multiple, smaller hits that may not actually cause concussion on their own but together may be just as harmful. “It’s not the big hits, the one big concussion but more likely the repetitive banging that causes problems,” he says.

He admits that even his results, which are the strongest yet bridging play in the NFL and brain injury among living athletes, don’t prove that football can cause brain injury. “We’re not trying to make a cause-and-effect analysis,” he says. “This is another piece of the puzzle. This is a big piece, but the puzzle still has many pieces that need to be solved.”

He is continuing to scan more former players and will continue to study them to reveal what the long-term consequences of the TBI symptoms might be. He notes that not everyone with signs of brain injury will develop more serious brain disorders, including headaches, deficits in cognitive functions or even dementia. Finding a way to distinguish between those who do, likely because of some genetic predisposition, and those who don’t, could be helpful for diagnosing and treating players who have had brain injuries.

As the data on concussions, TBI and football continues to grow, Conidi advises parents, coaches and professional athletes to start talking about ways to reduce trauma to the brain. That means starting to talk about limiting contact to the head during practice — perhaps even eliminating it — while the research continues. “Give us some time,” says Conidi. “We may need to put things on hold until we figure this out completely. It’s better safe and have to limit contact or play sports that don’t have high-impact contact on a regular basis. If we took away such contact from practice, it would make a huge difference.”

That’s not likely to happen any time soon, and Conidi is the first to admit that. But, he says, it’s time to start considering it as the puzzle pieces continue to create a link between brain injury and later cognitive problems.

Here’s What Sexist Video Games Do to Boys’ Brains

This article originally posted on time.com. Written by Alexandra Sifferlin.


Playing sexist video games can reduce empathy toward female violence victims, a new study suggests.

It can be easy to objectify women in some popular video games. In some games, you can even have your character pay a woman for sex and then kill her, if you are so inclined. Now, a new study out Wednesday reports that boys who play the kind of games where “women are secondary characters … who are used as sexual objects by players” show diminished empathy toward female victims.

The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, randomly assigned 154 male and female high schoolers to play one of three types of games: video games that the researchers say contained both violence and sexism (two Grand Theft Auto games), games with violence but without sexism (Half Life 1 or Half Life 2), and games without violence or sexism (Dream Pinball 3D or Q.U.B.E 2).

After they played the game, the researchers asked them how much they identified with the character they were controlling. They also showed them a photo of an adolescent girl whom they were told had been physically beaten by an adolescent boy. They were asked them how compassionate they felt toward her.

They found that boys who played the games containing sexism and violence were more likely to identify with the character they were playing. They also reported less empathy toward the images of female victims. That did not hold true for girls who played those games, suggesting that the games may impact boys and girls differently.

“It’s not just an association,” says study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “You can’t say all the boys who lacked empathy played the sexist game. If they are randomly assigned, they should have equal [empathy] levels. If they differ after the game, the only things that can cause that difference is the game or a random fluke. Scientists are pretty careful to avoid random flukes.”

In the Grand Theft Auto games, the women are often prostitutes or strippers. Players can physically harm them, which according to the researchers, can be followed by a reward of points or extra health for the character. Bushman says video games differ from exposure to violence and sexism in other forms of media because a player is taking an active role. “We know people learn better when they are actively involved,” he says. “When you watch a film you may zone out, but when you play a video game you cannot zone out. When you watch a TV show, maybe you don’t identify with the character, but in a game you have no choice. You are the one who controls the character’s actions.”

The study is not without limitations. The sample is still considered relatively small and more research is needed to fully understand how video games might impact a person’s view or even behavior. Michael Ward, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Arlington has studied the link between violent video games and behavior, says that playing violent games doesn’t necessarily mean a person will engage in a violent act in real life, in part, perhaps, because they spend so much time playing them. “Kids and young adults who are playing violent video games are spending so many hours doing this,” he says. “Every hour you spend in your den playing video games is an hour you’re not getting drunk and getting into trouble. The time-use effect will dominate any behavioral change.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that people that play video games are not affected one way or the other by the content. “There is a perfectly reasonable expectation that as people engage in media, they get desensitized,” says Ward. “I am not taking any stance on whether the psychological effect is there or not. What we might really be interested in is the actual violence against women.”

The researchers say the study adds a layer to the existing evidence by pinpointing character identification as something that may impact empathy in real life.

“If you don’t think someone is suffering, you’re not going to help them,” says Bushman.