A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour finds that adults, who played Pokémon as children, have a special 'Pokémon region' in their brain, which reacts more to the digital characters when compared to people who have never played the game.
The study was conducted by University of Pennsylvania doctoral student Michael Barnett and former Stanford colleague Jesse Gomez, both of whom are known for their love for the game.
According to a press release issued by the University of Pennsylvania, the idea for the project came about when the pair were discussing young macaque’s brain regions lighting up on imaging scans when they view letters, cartoons and Tetris pieces and while joking around it they decided to essentially play the roles of the monkeys in the experiment, with one change, rather than Tetris pieces, they made their stimuli the first-generation Pokémon characters from the game’s original red and blue version.
The duo ended up gathering 11 experts, who like them had spent hours playing Pokémon, between the ages 5 and 8, and 11 who were novices at it.
The participants were then asked to name 40 randomly selected Pokémon characters and were shown a series of mages, including faces, animals and words as well as the characters.
The duo scanned their brains while they were being shown images of Pokémon characters and found that within the visual cortex of the Pokémon experts, there was a discrete area that was most active when looking at the Pokémon characters. There was no such region in a control group of non-players.
Turned out that the occipitotemporal sulcus a part of the brain's temporal and occipital lobes known for processing animal images, responded more to the Pokémon than those of novices.
According to the experts, the study has potentially important practical implications.
The researchers wrote in the paper, "Our data raise the possibility that if people do not share common visual experiences of a stimulus during childhood, either from disease, as is the case in cataracts, or cultural differences in viewing patterns, then an atypical or unique representation of that stimulus may result in adulthood, which has important implications for learning disabilities and social disabilities.”
For example, for a child born with autism, which is associated with difficulties recognizing faces and an aversion to eye contact, understanding how long the window of visual cortical plasticity lasts, according to this study, could lead to the designing of effective interventions for autism and other neuro-developmental conditions.