Teenagers who spend hours playing video games often have different structures and activity levels in the area of the brain associated with reward processing.
In a recent study published in the Translational Psychiatry journal, researchers described how they analyzed the MRI scans of more than 150 14-year-olds who were avid video game players.
Frequent gamers were found to have a higher volume of grey matter in the left ventral striatum – which could reflect altered reward processing and represent adaptive neural plasticity.
As Dr. Simone Kuhn of Ghent University notes, the ventral striatum is typically activated when people anticipate positive environmental effects or experience pleasure such as winning money, eating tasty food and having sex.
“The key finding of higher volume in left ventral striatum associated with frequent video game playing is in conceptual accordance with findings of enhanced dopamine release during video game playing,” the researchers concluded.
“Our results have implications for the understanding of the structural and functional basis of excessive but non-pathological video game playing and the role of the ventral striatum in ‘behavioral’ addiction.”
However, the authors acknowledged that it cannot be determined (at this stage) whether the higher volume of grey matter was a consequence of playing games, or if it simply reflected the “vulnerability” responsible for a preoccupation with gaming.
Nevertheless, Henrietta Bowden-Jones of London’s Imperial College told Reuters the findings were “highly relevant” to clinicians, as they “further closed the gap” between video gaming and other addictions.
“The exciting next step will be to determine, as with other addictions, whether volumetric differences are a cause or effect of excessive human behavior.”