Internet gaming addiction "changes the brain"

Ben Parfitt
Internet gaming addiction

Today’s copy of UK newspaper The Independent carries word of new research that suggests an addiction to the internet and online gaming could actually alter the brain.

Researchers used MRI scanner to examine the brains of adolescents who spent excessive amount of time online, often playing online games.

These images suggested that subjects suffered an impairment of the brain in areas that involve the processing of emotions, attention and decision making. The changes were similar to those observed in alcoholics or drug addicts.

"The majority of people we see with serious internet addiction are gamers – people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations,” consultant psychiatrist at Imperial College London Henrietta Bowden Jones stated.

“I have seen people who stopped attending university lectures, failed their degrees or their marriages broke down because they were unable to emotionally connect with anything outside the game.

“We are doing it because modern life requires us to link up over the net in regard to jobs, professional and social connections – but not in an obsessive way. When someone comes to you and says they did not sleep last night because they spent 14 hours playing games, and it was the same the previous night, and they tried to stop but they couldn't – you know they have a problem. It does tend to be the gaming that catches people out."

It is estimated that between five and ten per cent of internet users could be addicted.

Sadly, the paper lets itself down with one or two sweeping generalisations: “The majority are games players who become so absorbed in the activity they go without food or drink for long periods and their education, work and relationships suffer.”

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Tags: gaming , internet , addiction , study , brain

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2 comments

The Independent website does not link to the study or even its abstract (why not?). From what the Independent says, researchers studied brain-scans of 17 people previously diagnosed with "internet addiction disorder" (whatever that means) and compared these with brain-scans of 16 people. They saw "impairment of white matter fibres in the brain connecting regions involved in emotional processing, attention, decision making and cognitive control."

But is there white matter fibre impairment because of "internet addiction disorder" or is there "internet addiction disorder" because of white matter fibre impairment?

"The authors acknowledge that they cannot tell whether the brain changes are the cause or the consequence of the internet addiction."

But the headline says "Scientists show how internet dependency alters the human brain". So this is a falsehood published by the Independent, not the researchers, and it will be something jumped on by scaremongers and bansturbators.

Now, I wouldn't be surprised if 'excessive' internet use or videogame play does 'change the brain' in some way or if brain structure leads to excessive internet use or videogame play. What is important is what we do about it. The obvious conclusion from scaremongers and bansturbators will be along the lines of "videogames must be banned". Let's not let them get away with it.

(There is an interesting podcast about how brain structure can correlate with behaviour, including crime: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/moreorless/moreorless_20111115-1614a.mp3)

Tris Defries

Tris Defries INDUSTRY
Jan 12th 2012 at 1:36PM

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Here is the paper: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030253

They make it very clear that they haven't shown cause and effect: "our results do not clearly demonstrate whether the psychological features preceded the development of IAD or were a consequence of the overuse of the Internet. "

Tris Defries

Tris Defries INDUSTRY
Jan 12th 2012 at 6:31PM

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