Gamers are just wired differently says study

Gamers are wired differently according to a study from the University of Utah, image credit - Shutterstock
Gamers are wired differently according to a study from the University of Utah, image credit - Shutterstock

Boys hooked on video games have differently wired brains, according to new research.

Nerve circuits have been uncovered that mark out compulsive players from the rest - and they are both good and bad.

Scientists carried out MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans on almost 200 ten to 19 year olds and found some of the abnormalities improve their ability to absorb new information.

But other changes are associated with distractibility and poor impulse control, according to the findings published in Addiction Biology.

Professor Jeffrey Anderson, of the University of Utah, said: “Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial. However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them.”

The growing problem of ‘internet gaming disorder’ is a phenomenon many experts regard as a serious mental illness with sufferers so obsessed they often even give up eating and sleeping to play.

The study found teenage boys with it have vision or hearing brain cells that are more likely to have enhanced coordination to the ‘salience network’ of neurons that focus attention on important events, priming a person to take action.

In a video game, this may help a gamer 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.

Prof Anderson said: “Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention toward targets, and to recognise novel information in the environment. The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.”

Follow up studies will be needed to directly determine whether the boys with these brain differences do better on performance tests.

A more troublesome finding is a coordination between two brain regions, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, that is more strong than in individuals who are not compulsive video game players.

Prof Anderson said: “Having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility.”

The same change is seen in patients with schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism, and in people with poor impulse control. 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.

This work is the largest, most comprehensive investigation of differences in the brains of compulsive video game players to date, said Prof Doug Hyun Han.

The participants were screened in South Korea. The Korean government supports the research with the goal of finding ways to identify and treat addicts.

In the study researchers performed MRI on 106 boys who were seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder, a psychological condition the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) says warrants further research.

The brain scans were compared to those from 80 boys without the disorder, and analysed for regions that were activated simultaneously when participants were at rest.

The more frequently two brain regions light up at the same time, the stronger the functional connectivity.

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