Have you ever wondered why as an adult you have trouble remembering phone numbers, birthdays, and other important life stuff? Yet you’re completely capable of reciting all 151 original Pokemon – even if you haven’t played the games in years?
I know it keeps me up some nights. My wife was especially unhappy when, after forgetting my own Birthday, I simply curled up in a ball on the floor and recited the Pokerap in between sobs.
So that didn’t actually happen (obviously) but the point still stands; a lot of adults have a lot of fairly useless info tumbling around in their brains like wet shoes in a dryer, and for a good chunk of a certain age group, that useless information tends to pertain to Pokemon.
As it turns out, all that time spent exploring Kanto as a nipper may have actually re-wired your brain to the extent that your gray matter now has its own dedicated region for storing information on Pokemon.
Yes, that does make it sound like your brain has its own organic Pokedex, and yes that does sound awesome.
A new study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior tells how researchers gathered up 11 adults who identified as “experienced” Pokemon players, meaning they played the games between five and eight years old, stopped for a bit, and then played again as adults. They also recruited 11 novices.
All participants were then tested to gauge if they really were familiar with Pokemon or if they were just showing off to try and impress their friends – we’ve all done it. Following the initial test, participants were shown pictures of the original 151 Pokemon alongside other images, including cartoon characters, faces, words, cards, and animals.
Through this, it was discovered that a specific region in the brains of the experienced players (it’s called the occipitotemporal sulcus, brain fans) responded more to the Pokemon than to any of the other images.
For the novices, the occipitotemporal sulcus (often used for processing animal images, brain fans) didn’t show any kind of preference for the Pokemon.
You probably won’t be that surprised to discover that something these adults spent a lot of time with as kids is now hardwired into their noggins, but part of the study was to discover exactly how the brain learns to recognise and categorise these images to specific regions in the first place.
Study co-author Jesse Gomez, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley explained that the hours we all spent playing Pokemon as kids created the perfect conditions for their study.
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. Teaching a new visual stimulus is a carefully controlled process. To make sure that you get clean data, you need to show all subjects the same picture with the same brightness and viewed from the same distance, and you need to show it over and over again.
Thankfully, Pokemon fans of a certain generation were exposed to the same still black and white images of Pokemon, from the same distance, at the same level of brightness.
The results ended up supporting a theory called “eccentricity bias,” in which the size of images we’re looking at and whether or not we’re looking at it dead on or with peripheral vision predicts which area of the brain responds.
Obviously, none of us played Pokemon Red/Blue out of the corner of our eye, so it checks out that the occipitotemporal sulcus would respond to our Pokemon loving ways.
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.