Changes in brain activity in response to problem solving during the abstinence from online game play

Abstract

Background and aims: Several studies have suggested that addictive disorders including substance abuse and pathologic gambling might be associated with dysfunction on working memory and prefrontal activity. We hypothesized that excessive online game playing is associated with deficits in prefrontal cortex function and that recovery from excessive online game playing might improve prefrontal cortical activation in response to working memory stimulation. Methods: Thirteen adolescents with excessive online game playing (AEOP) and ten healthy adolescents (HC) agreed to participate in this study. The severity of online game play and playing time were evaluated for a baseline measurement and again following four weeks of treatment. Brain activation in response to working memory tasks (simple and complex calculations) at baseline and subsequent measurements was assessed using BOLD functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Results: Compared to the HC subjects, the AEOP participants exhibited significantly greater activity in the right middle occipital gyrus, left cerebellum posterior lobe, left premotor cortex and left middle temporal gyrus in response to working memory tasks during baseline measurements. After four weeks of treatment, the AEOP subjects showed increased activity within the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and left occipital fusiform gyrus. After four weeks of treatment, changes in the severity of online game playing were negatively correlated with changes in the mean value of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in response to complex stimulation. Conclusions: We suggest that the effects of online game addiction on working memory may be similar to those observed in patients with substance dependence.

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