There’s a good joke I heard once about how people were worried about computer games affecting kids’ behaviour but, says the punchline, if that was the case teenagers would all be running round dark rooms, listening to techno and munching pills. It may be overstating the case to say Pac-Man has defined a generation, but the little yellow man keeps popping up time and time again. And now he’s back completely revolutionising science.
A new study using a rather nasty version of the classic arcade game has discovered the way the human brain reacts to imminent danger. By plugging the hungry fellow into the mains, scientists gave players an electric shock whenever they were captured by a blue ghost. The scientists found that when the threat was far away players used the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain developed for complex planning tasks, and when the predator was about to kill them their brains switched to the periaqueductal gray, the survival zone. It all seems fairly obvious stuff. I guess when the scientists were analysing the results the ‘thinking’ part of their brain was working. Then they probably switched to the ‘talking’ bit and after that perhaps the ‘writing’ and ‘colouring’ zones. However, if anyone knows how to get hold of this version of Pac-Man, please let me know.