Play video games, develop a larger pleasure center in your brain

This just in: scientists from Berlin have released results in the journal of Translational Psychiatry that teenagers who play video games frequently have brains with larger pleasure centers.

Dr. Simone Kühn of Charité University Medicine and her team studied 154 Berlin school kids aged 14 who played video games. The children were divided into two groups — the casual crowd at only 4 hours a week and more frequent players that logged 21 hours a week on average. None were considered video game "addicts" — just your regular gamer.

The research team found when the kids underwent an MRI, scans showed the "ventral striatum," the region of the brain associated with things that bring pleasure, had more grey matter in the frequent players. (I'm sorry but I can't help but insert a big DUH at this point.)

The ventral striatum is complicated little bundle. Dopamine — the neurotransmitter associated with motivation and rewards such as food or money — plays a role in this area of the brain. Too much dopamine can even trigger addiction.

The second phase of the study gets more interesting. The kids were asked to play a computer game that promised a reward if they pressed the correct key quickly when prompted. They were given feedback afterwards if they had succeeded or failed.

Brain scans of the frequent gamers who played the game surprisingly showed activity in the pleasure center when they failed. This group actually considers a loss as a reward. That explains why we can't put down the controller even when we get slayed. There is even a term for it with problem gamblers called "loss chasing." These people are so stimulated they respond to losses by gambling more.

Dr. Kühn is getting ready to tackle the next question — are we born gamers? Does the gaming make the pleasure center larger or do gamers have larger centers to begin with?

There was a similar study showing enlargement of related area of the brain — the 'dorsal striatum,' which enables us to perform better at our video games and make quicker decisions. While this study seems to validate the argument we may be born this way, Kühn actually believes it is the gaming that drives the enlargement.

To prove this theory she's teaching adults who have never been gamers to play for two months to see if these brain centers show enlargement.

I for one can't wait to hear the results — will we evolve to look like giant brained Talosians of Star Trek fame? What do you think — were you born a big brained gamer or do you believe your morphed into one?

Via ABC Science

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