Experts have long debated how chronic video game play affects gamers’ minds. A new study demonstrates that gaming alters the wiring in the brains of avid players, for better and for worse.
Brain scans of nearly 200 adolescent boys provide evidence that the brains of compulsive video game players are wired differently. Chronic video game play is associated with hyperconnectivity between several pairs of brain networks. Some of the changes are predicted to help game players respond quickly to new information. Other changes are linked to distractibility and poor impulse control.
Internet gaming disorder
The Internet is now an inescapable part of most people’s daily lives. Recent scientific reports have begun to focus on the obsession some people develop with certain aspects of the Internet, particularly online games. Many gamers play compulsively, excluding other interests, and their persistent online activity results in clinically significant impairment or distress.
A majority of literature stems from evidence from Asian countries, based on young males. The studies suggest that when these individuals play Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance.
It is a psychological condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as warranting further research.
The most recent study, a collaboration between the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea, was published online in Addiction Biology on Dec. 22, 2015.
Magnetic resonance imaging was conducted on 106 boys of ages 10 to 19, seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder. Researchers compared the brain scans to those of 80 boys without the disorder and analyzed for regions that were activated simultaneously while participants were at rest, to measure functional connectivity.
“Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial. However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them,” said senior author Jeffrey Anderson, M.D., associate professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
The study reported that in adolescent boys with the disorder, certain brain networks that process vision or hearing are more likely to have enhanced coordination to the salience network. This network is responsible for focusing attention on important events, setting the person to take action.
What seemed troubling was an increased coordination between two brain regions, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, a change reflective of patients with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome and autism. Hyper connectivity between the two regions is also observed in people with poor impulse control.
Image credit: Jeffrey Anderson
Several regions of the brain are hyperconnected in adolescent boys diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder (lines between colored areas, colored areas represent specific brain networks) as shown in the image.
It is still unclear whether years of playing video games caused these changes or whether these differences in the brain’s internal wiring initiated the participants being drawn towards gaming. Further research and performance tests are necessary to determine the long-term effects of excessive video gaming on the mind.
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