Brains of compulsive video game players are wired differently, according to a new study which found hyperconnectivity between several pairs of brain networks in boys suffering from internet gaming disorder.
Some of the changes are predicted to help game players respond to new information. Other changes are associated with distractibility and poor impulse control, researchers said.
"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, associate professor at the University of Utah in US.
Those with internet gaming disorder are obsessed with video games, often to the extent that they give up eating and sleeping to play.
This study reports that in adolescent boys with the disorder, certain brain networks that process vision or hearing are more likely to have enhanced coordination to the so-called salience network.
The job of the salience network is to focus attention on important events, poising that person to take action. In a video game, the enhanced coordination could help a gamer to react more quickly to the rush of an oncoming fighter.
"Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention towards targets, and to recognise novel information in the environment," said Anderson.
"The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently," he said.
More troublesome is an increased coordination between two brain regions, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, a change also seen in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, down's syndrome, and autism.
Hyperconnectivity between the two regions is also observed in people with poor impulse control.
It is not known whether persistent video gaming causes rewiring of the brain, or whether people who are wired differently are drawn to video games, the researchers said.
According to Doug Hyun Han, professor at Chung-Ang University in South Korea, this research is the largest, most comprehensive investigation to date of brain differences in compulsive video game players.
Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 106 boys between the ages of 10 to 19 who were seeking treatment for Internet gaming disorder, a psychological condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The brain scans were compared to those from 80 boys without the disorder, and analysed for regions that were activated simultaneously while participants were at rest, a measure of functional connectivity.
The study was published in the journal Addiction Biology.