Playing Pokémon May Have Permanently Changed Your Brain


Pokémon experts, it’s officially been confirmed: your brains have been reprogrammed as a result of playing the game regularly as a child, and now you are part of Nintendo’s global droid army obligated to watch Detective Pikachu (okay, we’re kidding about the latter part).

A recently published Stanford University study has identified a specific brain region that is preferentially activated by looking at images of your favourite Pokémon. The study’s first author and former Stanford graduate student, Jesse Gomez, said he was inspired by Harvard Medical School’s recent studies in monkeys. Researchers found that monkeys must be exposed to objects from an early age, when the brain is “particularly malleable and sensitive to visual experience,” to develop new regions that are dedicated to new categories of objects in the visual cortex. 

To test whether or not this was also true in humans, Gomez employed the help of Pokémon, as he remembered playing the game “nonstop” all throughout his childhood. Testing a group of 11 Pokémon experts who played the game when they were children against a control group of people who knew nothing about the game, Gomez found that everyone who played Pokémon consistently as kids had the same location in their brain light up in response to characters such as Pikachu and Bulbasaur. That brain area is called the occipitotemporal sulcus, a brain fold located just behind our ears that typically recognises images of animals. The “Pokémon region” is a part of the high-level visual cortex that identifies words, faces, and even celebrities like Jennifer Aniston.

So why do images of Pokémon make that specific region of the brain light up? The answer lies in a visual theory called eccentricity bias, which basically states that 1) how much visual field an object takes up and 2) which parts of our central or peripheral vision we use to view the object determine the size and location of the corresponding region in the brain dedicated to that particular object. Apparently, just the way we look at something can dictate the organization of our brains. Since Game Boy screens are a fixed size (read: pretty small) and we hold the device a maximum of an arm’s length away, we look at the Pokémon on screen with our central vision, which puts them in a particular fold of the brain that gets input from the central part of our retina.

Test your brain’s ability to identify ALL the Pokémon in the latest Detective Pikachu trailer below, and don’t forget to catch the film in theatres this Friday.