We know that compulsive video gaming is bad for the carpal tunnel, the back, the diet and the social life of those who play video games day and night. But what about the brain of the gamer? Is it different? Are those differences good or bad? The first comprehensive study of the brain scans of gamers says the answers are yes, yes and yes.
Details of this study were published recently in the journal Addiction Biology. Researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea selected 106 boys ages 10 through 19 who were either diagnosed with or seeking help for Internet Gaming Disorder, which is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a “Condition for Further Study.” The subjects were compared to a control group of 80 boys who did not have the disorder. All were from South Korea, where video game playing and addiction is much higher than the U.S. and where government interest in diagnosis and treatment is also higher.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers analyzed brain activity between 25 pairs of brain regions. They found that, in the brains of compulsive gamers, there were strong connections between the brain regions controlling hearing and vision and the regions controlling the salience network which controls attention to important events. This above-normal connectivity allows gamers to react quickly to game attacks and may improve their reactions in real life as well.
On the negative side, the researchers found the gamers had greatly increased connectivity between two brain regions (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction), a connection that is also high in people with poor impulse control or with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism.
The big question – whether gaming itself rewires brains to create the hyper-connections or whether boys born with the hyper-connections were naturally attracted to gaming – was not addressed in the study. Hopefully, further analysis will provide an answer.
As with many other addictions, there is a 12-Step recovery program called Online Gamers Anonymous.