The numerous reports of people walking into traffic and disturbing the peace in pursuit of one more Pokémon GO character may be less about carelessness and more about brain malfunction brought on by yet another human addiction. According to neuroscientist Elan Barenholtz, Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University, augmented and virtual reality experiences are distorting the brain’s normal rewards system to a degree comparable to that of a brain on drugs. About the augmented reality game, he speculates, it’s “artificially stimulating your reward centers . . . messing around with giving ourselves stimulants and feedback that we’ve never encountered before.” Historically, research has shown that video games can cause deterioration in brain function through repeated distortion of the brain’s rewards systems. However, with virtual reality, and in particular, Pokémon GO, the superimposition of a virtual world into a person’s real world is altering the body’s rewards system at a much greater pace. People perceiving greater rewards and receiving instant gratification in Pokémon GO will be less likely to spend more time in the real world. Barenholtz warns this is where the danger lies, and he asks the question, “Why would you stop?”
Is Pokémon Go the new drug wreaking havoc on our brains?
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