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Tuesday, August 14 • 10:00am - 10:50am
Neural changes following video game empathy training

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Tammi RA Kral, Diane E Stodola, Rasmus M Birn, Jeanette Mumford, Enrique Solis, Lisa Flook, Elena G Patsenko, Craig G Anderson, Constance Steinkuehler, Richard J Davidson

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Empathy is critical for navigating our social world, particularly during adolescence when individuals may benefit from using empathy to offset the negative impact of bullying, psychiatric illness and poor peer relations. Prior research indicates that empathy is a skill that can be trained with a variety of interventions, and video games provide a unique medium for training that is familiar and engaging to adolescents, and could be delivered at a large scale. We developed an empathy training video game, Crystals of Kaydor (Crystals), and investigated whether playing Crystals increased empathic accuracy (EA) and related brain activation in adolescents. Players randomly assigned to play Crystals learned to recognize six basic emotions, to gauge emotion intensity and respond empathically over 2 weeks of daily gameplay. Approximately half of the participants were randomly assigned to play a well-matched, active control game – Bastion. Participants completed an EA task during an fMRI scan before randomization and again following gameplay. There were no group differences in EA improvement following gameplay, however, engagement with training aspects of Crystals was associated with a higher increase in EA-related activation in right temporoparietal junction following gameplay – a brain region implicated in empathy and perspective taking. Moreover, resting state functional connectivity (RSFC) in empathy-related brain circuits (posterior cingulate–medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC) was stronger after Crystals gameplay compared to Bastion. The more individuals’ EA increased following Crystals versus Bastion, the stronger their RSFC in brain circuits relevant for emotion regulation (amygdala-MPFC). These findings suggest that a video game designed to increase empathy produces behaviorally-relevant, functional neural changes in fewer than 6 hours of gameplay in adolescents.

* This work was supported by a Gates Foundation grant OPP1033728 to RJD, and a core grant to the Waisman Center from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) P30 HD003352 to Marsha Seltzer.


Tuesday August 14, 2018 10:00am - 10:50am CDT
5th Quarter Studio