Brains of Compulsive Video Game Players are Wired Differently: Scientists

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Dec 22, 2015 05:30 AM EST

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11: In this photo provided by Nintendo of America, Elizabeth S. (L) of Burbank, CA and her son James (2nd L) battle it out against Will D. of Los Angeles and Jake S. (R) while playing 'Super Smash Bros.' for Wii U during E3 on June 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The children become the first kids in the world to score exclusive hands-on time with Splatoon, a new video game for the Wii U console that Nintendo announced at the trade show in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Nintendo via Getty Images) (Photo : Bob Riha, Jr./Nintendo via Getty Images)

In the United States alone, 67 percent of households play video games and 25 percent of gamers in the country are below 18 years old, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) reports. The average gamer spends 168 hours per week playing video games, and 64% of parents believe that games are a positive part of their children's lives.

A new study coming from researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea has revealed how brains of compulsive video game players are in fact wired differently. The study was published online in "Addiction Biolog," EurekAlert reports.

Accoriding to Medical Xpress, researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 106 boys aged 10 to 19 who were undergoing treatment for Internet gaming disorder, which is a psychological condition that is considered by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as warranting additional research. The brain scans were then compared to those of 80 boys who did not have the disorder. Researchers analyzed the regions that were activated simultaneously while the study participants were at rest, and found that the more frequently two brain regions lit up at the same time, the stronger the functional connectivity.

Researchers analyzed brain activity in 25 pairs of brain regions, amounting to 300 combinations. The study revealed that the group of boys who had Internet gaming disorder had statistically significant, functional connections between such pairs of brain regions:

  • Auditory cortex (hearing) and motor cortex (movement)
  • Auditory cortex (hearing) and supplementary motor cortices (movement)
  • Auditory cortex (hearing) and anterior cingulate (salience network)
  • Frontal eye field (vision) and anterior cingulate (salience network)
  • Frontal eye field (vision) and anterior insula (salience network)
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction

Senior author Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, associate professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said that "Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial. However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them."

"Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention toward targets, and to recognize novel information in the environment," Dr. Anderson explained. "The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently."

Researchers claim that one of the more concerning findings in the study is the coordination between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, that is stronger in compulsive video game players. He explained, "Having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility."

Dr. Anderson said that this change is seen in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, Down's syndrome, and autism, and among people with poor impulse control.

According to the study's first author, Dr. Doug Hyun Han of the Chung-Ang University School of Medicine and adjunct associate professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, this is the largest, most comprehensive investigation into the differences of brains of compulsive video game players.

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