Video games have been linked to helping us combat pain—but they might be useful for combatting other problems, too, as a recent study has found that video games appear to rewire gamers’ brain—for better and for worse.
The researchers, who are from the University of Utah School of Medicine and Chung-Ang University in South Korea, completed MRI scans of nearly 200 adolescent (ages 10-19) boys. They discovered in those with Internet gaming disorder—a psychological condition listed in the handbook of psychological disocerders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—that compulsive video gamers’ brains had hyperconnectivity in multiple brain networks.
“Most of the differences we see could be considered beneficial. However the good changes could be inseparable from problems that come with them,” said senior author Jeffrey Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, in a statement.
According to the study published in Addiction Biology, in the 106 boys with the disorder, brain regions that process hearing or vision were more likely to coordinate strongly with the salience network—the area that focuses attention on important events so that we can take action more swiftly.
In games, this means that a player could be able to react more quickly to something like an incoming sniper attack or an arrow to the knee. In real life, it could help you notice a ball rolling in front of your car, or an incoming criticism attack from an in-law.
“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,” said Anderson. “The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.”
Jedi-level reflexes come with a dark side
One of the next steps will be to determine if boys with these brain differences perform better on tests regarding to reactions and reflexes.
Unfortunately, though, these Jedi-level reflexes come with a dark side: The boys with the disorder also had increased connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction. This sort of change is also seen in people with conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism—and in people with poor impulse control.
“Having these networks be too connected may increase distractibility,” said Anderson.
However, it’s currently not known whether persistent video gaming actually rewires the brain in these ways, or if those who like to game already have this sort of wiring to begin with.
All in all, the 106 heavy gamers had six brain regions with significantly more connectivity, as compared to the 80 boys with Internet gaming disorder. Five of these areas, however, were involved with the salience network—the connections that helped improve attentiveness—so perhaps these changes were more for the good than for the bad.
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