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Brain scans show compulsive gamers have hyperconnected neural networks

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Brain scans from 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 to new information.

Other changes are associated with distractibility and poor impulse control. The research, 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.

“Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial. However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them,” says senior author Jeffrey Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Those with Internet gaming disorder are obsessed with video games, often to the extent that they give up eating and sleeping to play. This study reports 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 job of the salience network is to focus attention on important events, poising that person to take action. In a video game, enhanced coordination could help a gamer to react more quickly to the rush of an oncoming fighter. And in life, to a ball darting in front of a car, or an unfamiliar voice in a crowded room.

A new study led by the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University provides evidence that 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). Some of the changes may help game players respond to new information, others are associated with distractibility and poor impulse control. (Credit: Jeffrey Anderson)

A new study provides evidence that 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). Credit: Jeffrey Anderson

“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,” says Anderson. “The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.” One of the next steps will be to directly determine whether the boys with these brain differences do better on performance tests.

More troublesome is 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. Hyperconnectivity between the two regions is also observed in people with poor impulse control.

“Having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility,” says Anderson. At this point it’s not known whether persistent video gaming causes rewiring of the brain, or whether people who are wired differently are drawn to video games.

According to Doug Hyun Han, M.D., Ph.D., professor at 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 to date of brain differences in compulsive video game players. Study participants were from South Korea, where video game playing is a popular social activity, much more than in the United States. The Korean government supports his research with the goal of finding ways to identify and treat addicts.

Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging on 106 boys between the ages of 10 to 19 who were seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder, a psychological condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as warranting further research. 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 team analyzed activity in 25 pairs of brain regions, 300 combinations in all. Specifically, boys with Internet gaming disorder had statistically significant, functional connections between the following pairs of brain regions:

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

82 Comments

  1. Horseshit pseudo science. Lets hurry to push this into the DSM-5 so you can sell more drugs. Why not scan some soldiers, or hunter gather society members, I’d imagine you’d see similar preferential networks for brain data. As a heightened sense of awareness in those activities is also needed. Also not a single woman suffers from this “disorder”? Surely you can scan some of them as well.

    This seems very similar to the push to label everyone ADHD (also a heavily male favored diagnosis).

    • Women’s brain are fairly similar to male brains (you hardly can’t differentiate a male’s brain from a female’s by looking at it), the fact that they choosed boys is probably because gaming addiction is usually more common from males. Also, even if this may seem odd gaming demands more attention than hunting or being a soldier since when you play a game your level of attention throughout the session will be higher, you will have more “stuff to react to”, there’s always something happening in front of your eyes, the difference is that if you’re a gamer you won’t have the constant fear of physical threat which gives more time to focus on those stuff happening.

    • Jordan Yarbrough on

      Does it have to be psuedo-science for it to be abused to sell more drugs? It’s possible to somewhat correctly assess a problem and prescribe an unhelpful solution. I haven’t read the study… just wondering if you had and had some more specific helpful critiques than that.

      • I have read the paper, and concluded that recent research has gone a half-step too far in labelling this a separate disorder, but video game addiction is tentatively identified as it’s own condition – which makes sense. Any sort of addiction warrants research into possible negative effects. I don’t necessarily agree with their interpretation of the results, but that doesn’t make their research pseudoscience or unhelpful. Others are free to base their own research off of these findings, and take it in a new direction.

        Brains are plastic. Neural connections change constantly. Why is it so hard for people to see that ANY activity if done often enough can permanently change the functioning of their brain? Professional Musicians vs. non musicians have greater cortex volume in the brain regions associated with music playing (prefrontal and primary motor cortex, inferior temporal lobes, etc). Whether or not the changes resulting from long term excessive gaming are maladaptive, it is ridiculous to imply that the changes don’t exist.

    • 1. The DSM-5 is used for assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders and doesn’t include information, guidelines or suggestions on how to treat them (drugs or otherwise). Limited research into Internet Gaming Disorder suggests that the most effective treatment methods are CBT, self-help programs and counseling not drugs.

      2. Internet Gaming Disorder is included in the DSM-5 as a condition that needs additional research in order to determine if it even warrants inclusion as a disorder. No one is hurrying to push it into the DSM, but it’s being pushed (rightfully so) as needing further study.

      3. The study mentioned in the article admits that its unknown if the observed differences are a result of the behavior (gaming) or if the differences increase the draw to the behavior.

      Nothing in this article- or the limited access Addiction Biology article- indicate anything sketchy or deserving of the label “pseudo science”. The results were statistically significant, the study had an appropriate comparison group, and the authors conclusions do not extend beyond what is justified by their results. Before you impugn the integrity of the research because it doesn’t jive with your perspective you should do a little legwork and research of your own. It’s pretty clear based on your post history that if anything is suspect, or biased, its your opinion.

      Signed,
      An Extremely Avid Gamer

    • I am a woman with ADHD. Just putting that out there. It may be “male favored” in diagnosis, but there are women and girls who have it, too. It’s probably gender expectations why more boys then girls get the diagnosis.

      • No i wouldn’t, because most of those pills are very bad for you. If you do some research on antidepressants you’ll find that almost everyone that has ever been on a shooting spree in the US was taking Prozac or something of that sort. That alone raises a huge red flag. Unless it’s a very serious issue where your life may be on the line, stay away from the meds.

          • If you aren’t psychotic, and you take drugs that actually treat those symptoms; it will have the reverse effect and you will go crazy. Which is why those shooters probably weren’t even crazy to begin with.

        • Have you ever though that people who shoot others are instable in the first place and that’s the reason why the need prozac and not the other way around….
          Tho i agree that there is way too many labeles being made for every minor issue

          • Jeremiah Pierce on

            Sure, that’s the obvious reason. But what about the other side. People that are scared into believing they need those drugs, and then those drugs change your brain’s chemistry enough that you have some very, very sick and twisted thoughts.

        • DontWorryAboutMe on

          Um where are you getting this information, can you provide us with sources backing up your claim? All I’m getting from your statement is that prozac is the source of all mass shooters’ problems.

          • You are clearly one of those people that believe everything you see on the internet…and every pharm company that says “here, take this. You’ll feel better”. 100 years ago we didn’t NEARLY as many crazy diseases, cancers, disorders, and just an overall generation of extremely fucked up kids running around. The world is going to shit….and the pharm companies are loving it. “Lets dish out more pills” they say. Yet nobody thinks for a second about what LONG TERM affects it will have on you, your kids, your kid’s kids. Not saying its all their fault…just saying that people need to stop jumping to look for a quick fix in the form of a pill to fix stuff. TRY HARDER TO FIX IT WITHOUT DRUGS FIRST. PILLS SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT.

          • You are clearly one of those people that believe everything you see on the internet…and every pharm company that says “here, take this. You’ll feel better”. 100 years ago we didn’t have NEARLY as many crazy diseases, cancers, disorders, and just an overall generation of extremely fucked up kids running around. The world is going to shit….and the pharm companies are loving it. “Lets dish out more pills” they say. Yet nobody thinks for a second about what LONG TERM affects it will have on you, your kids, your kid’s kids. Not saying its all their fault…just saying that people need to stop jumping to look for a quick fix in the form of a pill to fix stuff. TRY HARDER TO FIX IT WITHOUT DRUGS FIRST. PILLS SHOULD BE A LAST RESORT. Lets give that a shot…

          • Your disconnection with current generations has nothing whatsoever to do with “crazy diseases”. It’s called “science”, we’re learning more about the world around us. Most of this has been here all along, just shrouded in our own ignorance; instead of cancer your swollen neck was caused by demons or hateful spirits.

      • DontWorryAboutMe on

        You must be one of those people that assumes pharmaceutical drugs don’t have any negative side effects themselves. Bet you didn’t know that most adhd medications have depression as a side effect

        • Hmm. I’m not pro-pharma, myself, but depression is comorbid with ADHD very frequently. I think it’d be bloody difficult to isolate depression due ADHD drug side-effects as most people that suffer from ADHD also suffer from depression to begin with.

          • DontWorryAboutMe on

            So because someone has ADHD they automatically have depression. Got any credible sources that support this statement?

          • I said “depression is comorbid with ADHD very frequently” and “because someone has ADHD they automatically have depression” are two entirely different statements. Your interpretation of what I said is entirely flawed. To say things are “very frequently” some way doesn’t mean they are “always” some way. Learn to reason, please.

            As for sources … try checking out the DSM for starters.

            Or try a search for adhd depression comorbidity on Google’s scholar search engine. Turns up plenty of articles on the matter.

            “blinded clinical reappraisal interviews using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) with a probability subsample of survey respondents showed generally good concordance of DSM-IV diagnoses based on the CIDI and SCID, with an area under the receiver operator characteristic curve of 0.65–0.81 for anxiety disorders, 0.75 for major depression, and 0.62–0.88 for substance use disorders”

            Easy enough to find.

          • …Because they are told that there is something wrong with them day in and day out when the reality is, there isn’t anything wrong with them aside from having to be drugged to sit in a chair in our antiquated industrial age school system.

          • Preaching to the choir regarding our Prussian modeled school system, mate. And about having to be drugged to sit in a chair. That said I won’t pretend disorders only exist because we’re told they do. There is such a thing as empirical data, yanno? Or are you one of those flat-Earth, 6000 year old planet types?

        • Most ADHD medication’s are the best known substitute for crack cocaine addicts who are going through withdraw.

          Also i’m pretty i was under weight, have shitty eating habits and chronic sleep issues because i was a 90’s kid with supposed ADHD who took the medication which decreased appetite, and cause sleeplessness…you know…cause an unhealthy diet and lack of sleep is the catalyst for success in a developing child’s overall health.

          I remember being high…literally high as fuck when i was on these pills in the morning and just about passing out by lunch time, it was awful.

          Thank god i chucked that shit in the garbage when i was 16,

      • Games back in the day sucked compared to now. I started with among others WC2 Tides of Darkness, but played Humans vs Orcs, Diablo, and Ultima Online followed by Everquest, Asheron’s Call, and DAoC.

        For the time they were elite, but objectively they’re all trash by today’s standards.

    • Magnus Cristiansson on

      There are countless documentaries about the lives of many, Chines, Korean, Japanese kids destroying there lives for video games. Meanly because they think they might one day become as famous as some people are there with the help of a video games. And yes in Korea (if I am not misstaken. Somewhere there) it is a classified as a disease, a addiction.

      Just incase your not a troll, in my opinion putting a label to gaming addiction as a disease might help them more then harm them. Specially since many parents are so strict in those parts of the world.

      I am myself a competitive gamer and I have been playing for at least 14 years, 4 of witch are professional. So in other words, I am not a boring old nagging none gamer just talking shit about gamers.

      I think this is a good thing. Positive and negative accepts of gaming.

      (Sorry for my poor grammer. Third language.)

    • Honestly believe I have this. But to someone who doesn’t, I can see why they’d be skeptical it exists. No way to prove either way but more time and research.

  2. Um, i notice a lot of you are recognizing this article as a bad thing, basically what it sounds like the article is saying is that gaming could condition you to take action or avoid danger altogether because certain senses or response systems are heightened.

    I’m a gamer, ever sense i was 6 years old, i notice when people cross the street 9 times out of 10 they do not even look. When i cross the street in like a fucking ninja, i take this seriously as i don’t trust other people to not run me over. This probably is completely unrelated but i’m curious, do my fellow gamers also take part in the same ritual?
    —————————————————————————————————
    “In a video game, enhanced coordination could help a gamer to react more quickly to the rush of an oncoming fighter. And in life, to a ball darting in front of a car, or an unfamiliar voice in a crowded room.”

    “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,” says Anderson. β€œThe changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.”

    ————————————————————————————————–
    You just better hope the military does not recognize these perceptual and response system traits as assets and target gamer’s as the new front line infantry, If there was a way to suppress the negative effects it could be valuable to have such a specialized state of consciousness.

    “Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention toward targets”

    Infantry came to mind as soon as the article mentioned “targets” Then i read the rest of the article and thought about it…..hey interesting theory, but thank god most of us are also out of shape! Even though it would only take a few months of training to condition the body. Stay away from recruitment centres guys!

    GLHF lol…

    • I take it more as a target of your attention independently on what action are you going to perform with said target.

      Your brain can tell you “hey! there’s a target 3 o clock, 4m!” after hearing heels clacking on the floor, your name being called out, a scream of pain, a fire alarm, an emergency light, etc, etc.

    • Legit, video games helped me sober up. When I stopped eating pills, the only thing that didn’t make me want to bash my head against a wall was video games. I’m guessing that falls in with the evidence of “poor impulse control” – which I definitely have.

      But yeah, I’d be in bed crawling out of my skin and hop on the sticks. It wasn’t “enjoyable” per say, but life was tolerable for the night. Maybe the game massaged the same part of my brain as the drugs did.

      • There was a time in my life that an XBOX 360 helped stay away from ecstasy abuse. Video games can increase dopamine levels and so do most drugs. Fighting fire with fire isn’t such a bad idea πŸ˜›

    • It’s obvious you spend a lot of time gaming because your grammar and punctuation are simply awful. I’d suggest giving up a few hours of gaming a week to take some english courses. Just my observation.

      • You seem to have forgotten to capitalize the word “English.” If you’re going to post an ad hominem regarding someone’s grammar, you’d be well-served proofreading it.

        • I type fast on these boards, and so neglect to proof read as I should. Thanks for the notification. Let’s be honest here — that disastrous butchering of the English language deserves attention, as do all abominations of grammar. If you have time to play video games all day, then you should have time to honor language and it’s proper usage.

          • Andrew, another edit: You should have written “its proper usage” instead of “it’s proper usage”. Although it’s true that singular possession for most words is usually denoted by an apostrophe and the letter “s” (for example, the bird’s wing, or the girl’s dress), the contraction for “it is” and “it has” also require an apostrophe and the letter “s”. To differentiate, the contraction (it’s as a short form of “it is” or “it has”) keeps the apostrophe, but the possessive form loses it. Another way to look at this is that the possessive form — its — is a neutral form of “his” and “hers” as personal pronouns. That’s the easiest way to remember which version to use, in my opinion. If the phrase can be broken down into “it is” or “it has”, use “it’s”. If the phrase cannot be broken down into either of these choices, use “its”.

          • So your a hypocrite? Original grammar correction btw, I’m sure the community is just dazzled by your prowess in the English language.

            As i’m sure your girl friend (if existent) is dazzled by your small genitalia. Have a wondrous day!

    • Pretty sure a lot of infantry guys play games, and vice versa. I even ready about a “gamer” who completed SEAL training. Real life isn’t as simple as pushing buttons, moving the mouse, and shooting anything that appears red in your crosshairs. It’s as much of a complicated RPG strategy game as it is an action game, if not more. Even if you get yourself in shape, there’s no way one can move as fast and still keep their weapons as precise as the twitch movements in games. You have to physically keep track of your ammunition in your magazines, the safety switch, whilst keeping communication wih your teammates and being mindful of the situation. No dialogue messages to clue you in. And even the most physically fit warfighter is no superman. He is still vulnerable to gunfire and relies on his teammates above all.

          • It would be most efficient to manage responses in this one thread to avoid repeating things unnecessarily. Nick Bostrom coined the term anthropic bias awhile ago, fortunately a natural state of mind for most people was something that I never harbored for whatever reason.

            Might I suggest approaching the problem of understanding black holes as a temporal catastrophe for general relativity, a problem yet to be sufficiently solved. The answer was never to be found within ideas requiring the certain suicide of an observer in effort to gain further knowledge. It could however to be found in how to take what is represented by infinitely curved space-time and how to produce the observer. This line of thinking results from a black hole merger paradox that nobody bothered to think of…

            How are you to reason when time stops? C^2 no longer need apply… what gives us the impression that dark matter exists? Why do globular clusters, globular galaxies, and elliptical galaxies take on a uniform distribution of really old looking stars? Are things clicking?

  3. So basically the take some med’s for the rest of you’re life as a crutch and this is supposed to be better then video game addition.

    As long as they come up with a therapy that does not include stimulant medication then i would’t take it seriously, unless of course video gaming does rewire you’re brain, which is kind of creepy.

  4. Kids these days be like you’re tweaking, and i’m just like let’s not turn this rape into a murder.

    [email protected]

  5. “One of the next steps will be to directly determine whether the boys with these brain differences do better on performance tests.”

    Performance tests? As in…games themselves?

  6. It appears that the psypost people have that DSM-5 affliction — Obamabrain; that ability to lie through one’s teeth with a more or less straight face, and believe the lies.

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