Altered Reward Process in Online Gamers
Excessive online gaming has been an area of interest for a number of years now and Internet Gaming Disorder has been added to the official diagnostics manual used by psychologists as a research diagnosis.
As an area of possible addiction, online gaming has the power to dramatically change peoples lives for the worse in a similar way to drug or gambling addiction but as a relatively new area is not yet fully understood.
Researchers from University Medicine Mainz aimed to examine how pathological gamers may process reward differently:
The main goal of the present study is to explore whether it is possible to identify differences between pathological computer game players and casual players on the cortical level.
The semi-natural setting gives the opportunity to record EEG in an environment that is close to the usually environment of pathological computer gamers.
Specifically we want to explore whether pathological computer gamers show tolerance effects
The tolerance effect is popularly used when discussing drug addiction and explains the effect of when an individual becomes used to or more tolerant of a drug over time, therefore requiring an increased dosage to have the desired effect.
For the purpose of this study the tolerance effect considers if reaction (such as happiness or joy) when confronted with reward is diminished in gamers over time.
The study found that this was in fact the case:
The results indicated significant differences in mean amplitude of the P300 between the groups during the finding of reward.
This result is better demonstrated in this picture comparing the brains of casual gamers (CG) vs pathological computer gamers (PGC) when finding a reward:
In simple terms the Casual Gamers brains are reacting more to rewards compared with the Gaming addicts. The authors offered an explanation for why this might be happening:
First, individuals with Internet Gaming Disorder might have a general reduced sensitivity to “natural rewards”
This study has implications for how, similarly to drug addiction, online games when played excessively may have the power to change brain processes on a physiological level.