Researchers used psybeam on the brains of adults who played Pokémon as kids and identified a brain region that responds more to the cartoon characters than to other images. More significantly, this super effective yet charming research method provides new insight into how the brain organizes visual information.
Seasoned Pokémon masters probably know the original 151 characters like the back of their hand. Now, this new research published on Monday in the journal Nature Human Behavior, reveals just how that’s possible: brain scans show the brain region responsible for storing information about Pokémon.
The Stanford University neuroscientists recruited 11 self-proclaimed Pokémon masters who began playing between the ages of 5-8 years and 11 Pokémon-novices and monitored the occipitotemporal sulcus in the brain. First, they tested all participants on the names of different pokémon characters to ensure the masters really did know their game. Then they scanned their brains while screening images of all 150 original pokémon in sets of eight alongside other random images like cars, words, animals, faces, corridors, and other cartoons. The brain region which processes animal images activated more strongly in gamer brains when presented with Pokémon pictures but indiscriminately activated for images of animals and Pokémon alike for newcomers during the scans.
After playing many hours of Pokémon as a kid, it’s not that surprising that looking at something for long enough will change our brain to do the same thing. It is known that the brain has cell clusters that respond to certain images. Therefore, It appears that the brains of experienced Pokémon masters clumped Pokémon together due to their distinct style instead of breaking them down into their component shapes or colors corresponding to other categories, according to The Verge.
The usual way to investigate how the brain categorize images is to teach children with still developing brains to see and recognize a new visual stimulus and then observe which brain region reacts.
Jesse Gomez, the co-author of this study and a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, was inspired after similar research on monkeys. But he said, “It seems a little bit unethical to have a kid come in and trap them for eight hours a day and have them learn a new visual stimulus”.
Gomez realized that pokémon, specifically the Game Boy version from the 1990s, would be ideal for this task as for collecting clean data, all subjects need to see the same picture with the same brightness, from the same distance repeatedly. “I spent almost as much time playing that game as I did reading and stuff, at least for a couple of years when I was six and seven. For this generation, everyone saw the same black-and-white pokémon images that didn’t move, and most people held the Game Boy about a foot away from their face, making this an ideal experiment”.
Maybe it does makes sense. People playing the original Gameboy ‘pokémon’ would have seen the same images and their brains would have used the same strategy as they tried their best to catch ’em all. The new generation might have an “Avenger’ region in the brain.