Teenage video game players have brains ‘like gambling addicts’

Daily Mail (UK) 15 Nov 2011
Teenagers who spend hours playing video games may have a similar brain structure to gambling addicts, research suggests. In a study of 14-year-olds, those who played frequently had a larger ‘reward centre’ in their brains than those who played less often. Brain scans showed those who played for more than nine hours a week produced more of the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine. They produced even more when they were losing, an effect seen in pathological gamblers which is thought to be what prevents them from stopping when they are on a losing streak. Playing video games was also shown to reduce decision time – a key skill for being good at them – which is also a characteristic of gamblers.

The researchers do not know whether gaming causes the brain to change, or whether people are born with this brain structure which makes them want to spend hours playing. But they say it is a crucial first step in understanding whether video games could be addictive. This study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, is the first to connect frequent video gaming with differences in both brain structure and activity. Dr Simon Kuhn of Ghent University in Belgium and colleagues in the UK and Germany analysed brain scans of more than 150 teenagers who were classified as playing video games either moderately or a lot.