Requested DocAlert: Can Video Games Hurt Children’s Brains?

Information sourced from NEJM Journal Watch:

Video Games Hurt Children’s Brains

More hours of video gaming in children are linked to lower verbal IQ and changes in brain white-matter.

Internet addiction has been associated with disrupted white-matter integrity (J Biomed Biotechnol 2012; 2012:854524), but similar studies of video gaming have not previously been conducted. To fill this knowledge gap, investigators studied self-reported weekday video game use and brain microstructure in 240 children in Japan (126 girls; age range, 6–18 years; mean, 12 years).

Choices on the video-gaming scale ranged from none to ≥4 hours. Parents reported video-gaming hours in children in grade 4 and younger. Analyses controlled for demographic factors (e.g., rural or urban residence and parental income).

More hours of video gaming were associated with lower verbal IQ and, on diffusion tensor imaging in 95 boys and 94 girls, with greater mean diffusivity (a measure of water molecule movement in white-matter tracts) in the thalamus; putamen; left middle, inferior, and orbital frontal cortex; left pallidum; left hippocampus; left caudate; and right insula — both at baseline and at 3-year follow-up.

COMMENT

These findings show loss of white-matter integrity in striatal areas associated with addiction and reward processing and thus suggest that excessive video gaming is an addiction. After these children are adults, studies assessing striatal dopamine receptors and transporters could address whether children who become excessive video gamers have dopamine reward circuitry similar to that found in people with other addictions (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2011; 108:15037). These findings support the evaluation of autism spectrum and depressive disorders in children who choose video gaming over other age-appropriate behaviors (e.g., socializing).

Barbara Geller, MD reviewing Takeuchi H et al. Mol Psychiatry 2016 Jan 5.

CITATION(S):

Takeuchi H et al. Impact of videogame play on the brain’s microstructural properties: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Mol Psychiatry 2016 Jan 5; [e-pub].
[Free full-text Mol Psychiatry article PDF | PubMed® abstract]

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