According to a recent study, new research puts forth evidence that suggests the brains of people who play video games compulsively are wired differently.
A collaborative study between the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea was recently published online in Addiction Biology on December 21, 2015, and it asserts that chronic video game play is connected to hyperconnectivity between several pairs of brain networks. Interestingly enough, both positives and negatives crop up in the research, but the findings have yet to definitively determine whether constant gaming causes rewiring of the brain, or if people wired differently than others are simply drawn to video games.
Analysis suggests that some of the changes to the brain from compulsive gaming are predicted to help game players immediately react to fresh information in both the game world and reality, while others are linked to distractibility and poor impulse control. The behavior found in the recent Fallout 4 lawsuit wherein a man is suing Bethesda for the loss of his wife and job after spending too much time playing the action-RPG is certainly an indication of the latter, for instead of acknowledging his video game addiction, he’s decided to chase a fool’s errand instead.
The study’s senior author, Jeffrey Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, explains that although there are some advantages that can be obtained through frequent gaming, it’s possible for detrimental effects to be inextricably linked with the benefits. For instance, there happen to be adolescent boys with what is called Internet gaming disorder who may retain better reaction skills, but are obsessed with video games to the point of missing meals and skipping sleep entirely to play.
The study reports that in those with Internet gaming disorder, specific brain networks processing vision or hearing are more likely to have enhanced coordination to what is called the salience network, which focuses attention on important events, priming a person to take action. To explain it one way, the increased coordination from consistent gaming could allow for quicker reaction time in video games when an enemy pops out of nowhere, and in reality it could help a person with something like honing in on an unknown voice in a loud, congested area. Regarding the findings, Dr. Anderson said:
“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. The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently. [Nevertheless,] having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility.”
In addition to the tendency toward distraction, the same changes in brain wiring has been found in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism. The same goes for those with poor impulse control.
As far the study’s technical aspects are concerned, researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging on 106 boys between the ages of 10 to 19 seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder, and compared the data to brain scans of 80 boys without the disorder. Examiners then analyzed the imaging for simultaneous activity in regions when participants were at rest, and when two brain regions lit up more frequently at concurrent intervals, it meant there was a stronger functional connectivity.
Activity in 25 pairs of brain regions, 300 combinations in all, were analyzed by the team. According to the study, 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
Obviously, there are drawbacks to gaming — or doing anything — too often, but a moderate approach can be beneficial. Another study has shown that playing 3D video games can lead to a memory boost. Not to mention, one bit of research has also been done to support the notion that playing video games can ultimately benefit social skills.
In any event, video games are undoubtedly here to stay, for on top of their ability to out-perform Hollywood movies in terms of overall gross, it’s been reported from an Entertainment Software Association gaming industry study that half of the U.S. population plays video games. Be that as it may, an even more comprehensive effort will hopefully build upon the aforementioned compulsive gamer study so as to determine exactly how the medium affects the brain’s wiring and how addiction to it can be treated. At any rate, we can at least be thankful that extensive research has proven that there is no link between video games and violent behavior.