Pokemon master in your childhood? There’s probably a region in your brain that responds to the monsters more than other images, study finds

MRI readings showed that the brains of adults who played the Pokemon video game extensively when they were young responded more to the images of Pokemon compared to a control group who had not played the video game when they were kids.
Business Insider / Rachel Tay

Ever wondered why you could name every Pokemon character off the top of your head, but could never do the same with exam answers?

Stanford University revealed in a study published online in the journal Nature Human Behavior on Monday (May 6) that if you spent most of your time as a kid trying to become a Pokemon master, your brain will now respond specifically to Pikachu and its friends, more than any other image.

Jesse Gomez, the study’s first author and former Stanford graduate student, based his experiment on the findings from a Harvard Medical School study on monkeys.

The Harvard research discovered that regions dedicated to a new category of objects would develop in the visual cortex – which is the part of the brain that processes what people see –  if the brain was exposed to the objects at a young age.

Gomez wanted to test if the same was true in humans.

As a former Pokemon game player himself, Gomez said he conducted the experiment using Pokemon because there were hundreds of characters in the game, and successful players had to know everything about them to play.

“I figured: ‘If you don’t get a region for that, then it’s never going to happen’,” he said.

Gomez recruited 11 adults, including himself, who had played the Pokemon video game extensively when they were young and placed them inside an MRI scanner where they were shown hundreds of Pokemon characters.

The MRI readings showed that their brains responded more to the images of Pokemon compared to a control group who had not played the video game when they were kids.

That’s not all – the site of the brain activations for Pokemon in the all the test subjects were found in the occipitotemporal sulcus, which is a brain fold located just behind the ears.

This particular region typically responds to images of animals, which Pokemon characters also resemble, the study found.

“I think one of the lessons from our study is that these brain regions that are activated by our central vision are particularly malleable to extensive experience,” professor of psychology at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, Kalanit Grill-Spector said.

The findings can also be used as evidence that human brains are capable of changing in response to experiential learning from a young age, but Grill-Spector added that there are other underlying constraints that affect how those changes unfold in life.

Hence, the brains of people who are extensively exposed to Pokemon characters from young can create new category activiations devoted to the characters, but these must still follow certain rules.

For parents who are afraid that this study suggests that video games have a long-lasting effect on children, Grill-Spector said that our brains are able to contain multitudes.

“The visual cortex is made up of hundreds of millions of neurons. We have the capacity to encode many, many patterns in that stretch of cortex.”

In fact, all 11 subjects who took part in the study are PhD holders and are “doing very well”, Gomez added.

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