Researchers at the Charité University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Berlin, Germany, found that gamers who play "frequently" have greater left striatal gray matter volume compared with those that are considered to be moderate gamers. Researchers say that these findings show the importance of "striatal volume and activity in shaping preference of skills for video gaming."
"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 [this activity] and excessive gambling in Parkinson's patients [given] dopaminergic medication," the investigators write.
Researchers were led by Simone Kühn, PhD, from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent Institute for Functional and Metabolic Imaging, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; Charité University Medicine; and Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, Berlin and Braunschweig, Germany. They analyzed MRI scans of 154 14-year-olds from the IMAGEN project, a European multicenter genetic neuroimaging study in teenagers.
Participants were divided into groups, based on a median of 9 hours weekly spent playing video games into 2 playing categories: frequent (76 total – 24 girls, 52 boys) and moderate (78 total – 58 girls, 20 boys).
Researchers found that the frequent gamer group had a significantly increased volume of left grey striatal matter compared with moderate gamers, which in turn was associated with higher functional MRI activity when not winning in a gambling task. The increased activity was negatively correlated with deliberation time in betting, as evaluated using a Monetary Incentive Delay task used to assess brain activity during reward anticipation and reward feedback.
"Individuals with higher ventral striatum volume might experience video gaming as more rewarding in the first place. This in turn could facilitate skill acquisition and lead to further reward from playing," the authors write. "If the striatal differences observed in the current study are indeed an effect of gaming, video gaming might pose an interesting option to explore structural changes in addiction in future studies."
The IMAGEN study receives research funding from the European Community's Sixth Framework Program and is supported by the UK Department of Health National Institute for Health Research–Biomedical Research Center 'Mental Health' and a MRC program grant. Additional funding was provided by the Berliner Senatsverwaltung. The study was published online November 15 in Translational Psychiatry.
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