Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is defined as a failure to control one’s impulses to excessively use online gaming. IGD results in serious negative outcomes, such as decreased physical and mental health, low academic achievement, and problems in interpersonal relationships. IGD is an increasing mental health problem worldwide, however, whole-brain neuroimaging studies have not been carried out for this widespread addiction, which is becoming increasingly prevalent around the world, especially in Asia. Now, a study from researchers at University of Utah and Chung-Ang University has shown that brain scans from nearly 200 adolescent boys provides evidence that the brains of compulsive video game players are wired differently. The team state that, to their knowledge, this is the largest, most comprehensive investigation to date of brain differences in compulsive video game players. The study is published in the journal Addiction Biology.
Previous studies show that the neural circuits related to risky decision-making in healthy subjects are a distributed subcortical-cortical network mainly consisting of prefrontal, parietal, limbic, and subcortical regions was found to be involved in risky decision-making. However, few neuroimaging studies focused on the effect of IGD on the neural substrates for risky decision-making. Findings show that individuals with internet addiction disorder required more brain resources to complete the decision-making task and ignored the feedback of previous outcome, which is an essential feature of risky decision-making in healthy controls. Recent data reveals that activation levels of the left inferior frontal gyrus and left precentral gyrus decreased in IGD individuals when performing a probability discounting task, which suggested impaired risk evaluation in IGD individuals. Although these studies suggested that the IGD is associated with abnormal brain activity during risky decision-making processes, how the risk level modulates brain activation during decision-making is still poorly understood in IGD individuals. The current study uses resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to show that patients with IGD have an increased functional correlation between seven pairs of regions; some of which are potentially beneficial, and some of which may be harmful.
The current study performed resting-state fMRI on 106 boys from South Korea between the ages of 10 to 19 who were seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder. The brain scans were compared to those from 80 boys without the disorder, and analyzed for regions that were activated simultaneously while participants were at rest, a measure of functional connectivity. The group analyzed activity in 25 pairs of brain regions, 300 combinations in all.
Results show that in adolescent boys with the disorder, certain brain networks that process vision or hearing are more likely to have enhanced coordination to the so-called salience network. The lab explain that the job of the salience network is to focus attention on important events, poising that person to take action. Data findings show an increased coordination between two brain regions, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, a change also seen in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism.
The group state that hyperconnectivity between the two regions is also observed in people with poor impulse control and that having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility. However, they argue that 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; the changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.
The team surmise that their findings may represent a training effect of extended game play. For the future, the researchers state suggest a risk or predisposition in game players for over-connectivity of the default mode and executive control networks that may relate to psychiatric co-morbidity.