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Video Games Rewire the Brain

🕑 2 minutes read
Posted January 6, 2016

boysWhen you learn something new, your brain changes to accommodate what you learned. What happens when you learn to play video games? According to a study from the University of Utah (U of U) School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea, boys who play an extreme amount of video games have significantly different brain connectivity than boys who do not. The findings demonstrate that boys with internet video game disorder have enhanced brain connectivity in certain pairs of brain networks. The study is the largest to-date about the brain differences in compulsive video game players.

The researchers took brain scans of boys aged 10 to 19, 106 with internet gaming disorder and 80 without the disorder. Internet gaming disorder is characterized by an obsession with playing video games. People with the disorder may skip eating or sleeping to play video games.

After conducting the brain scans, the researchers analyzed 25 pairs of brain regions, evaluating 300 combinations overall. They found that the brains of compulsive gamers are wired differently than the brains of their peers. Chronic gaming was associated with hyperconnectivity, especially in regards to the salience network. The salience network, which directs the brain’s ability to focus, had enhanced coordination with the rest of the brain in the boys with the disorder. The researchers also observed increased connectivity between multiple network pairs.

Many of the instances of enhanced connectivity make apparent sense for video game players, like the increased connectivity between the auditory and motor cortices, which regulate hearing and movement, respectively. These types of improved connectivity could benefit a person in everyday life. The researchers also noted that the boys with internet gaming disorder had increased connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction, similar to what is found in people with schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, or poor impulse control.

Having enhanced connectivity may be beneficial for cognitive functions. “Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention towards targets, and to recognize the novel information in the environment. The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently,” explained senior author Jeffrey Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neuroradiology at U of U. However, the connectivity may have a downside. “Having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility,” states Anderson.

This research is published in the journal Addiction Biology.

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