It’s not those “brain training” games that’s wiring gamers’ brains differently.
According to brain scans of nearly 200 teenage boys, the brains belonging to compulsive gamers are wired completely different from casual and non-gamers’ brains. Researchers have found evidence of hyperconnectivity between certain areas of the brain, as well as increased levels of distractibility.
The study published in Addiction Biology focused on boys aged 10 to 19 seeking professional help for Internet gaming disorder, a condition currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “needing further research”. Though this compulsive gaming disorder needs further research, it is widely understood that gamers who give up sleeping and eating in order to keep playing the game they have on the go. So these young men’s brains were scanned and compared with another group of boys who were not addicted to video games to see how the neural activities matched up.
The MRI scans found enhanced coordination in the “salience network” part of the gamers’ brains. The “salience network” is the area of the brain responsible for what’s important and focusing the body’s resources on it. In action, this could be stepping out of the way of an approaching car or knowing when to crouch when the team you are matched up against fires a flurry of digital bullets in your direction.
“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,” said lead author Jeffrey Anderson from the University of Utah. “The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.”
The researchers also found in the gamers’ brains an increased coordination between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction in the brain, which is a more troubling find as this brain activity is associated with schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, autism and poor impulse control. This could be the reason gamers have a reputation for being more easily distracted and less self-disciplined.
As of right now, we don’t know whether years of playing video games have caused these changes, or whether these difference in the brain’s internal wiring came first and led these teens to gaming. Further research and performance tests will be necessary for a clear picture of long-term effects of compulsive gaming.
“Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial,” says Anderson. “However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them.”
As gaming continues to turn its back on its past as a niche hobby, more research will look to explain how gaming affects our physical and mental health in positive and negative ways. But as it grows, we want to know, what are the positive and negative affects of video games on your physical and mental health? Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments.