Addictive video games change young people’s brains in the same way that drugs and alcohol do, new research has revealed.
According to the series of studies by California State University, the reward system in the brains of young people who heavily use social media and video games display the same changes in function and structure as those of people hooked on substances. Fortnite and other addictive video games were found to cause such changes, MRI scans revealed.
It is thought that children are at more risk because their brains are flexible, the research shows.
During the researchers’ series of studies, it was revealed that the impulsive section of excessive young video gamers’ brains – the amygdala-striatal system – was not only smaller, but also more sensitive, enabling it to process the stimuli of games faster.
Age restrictions being flouted
The findings come as British kids are gripped by the Fortnite video game, with some primary schools urging parents not to let their kids play it. A nine-year-old girl was even admitted to rehab after she became so addicted and immersed in Fortnite’s online world that she wet herself instead of leaving the screen and using the bathroom.
Teachers say many young pupils are flouting the game’s supposed 12 age limit and becoming obsessed. Some parents have even reported that their kids, who are normally placid, have turned into thugs obsessed with guns and killing.
Professor Ofir Turel of California State University, who led the studies, said: “Say someone sees a video game or cellphone, this reward system in the brain lights up. It’s a very strong activation compared to other people.
“It is associated with structural change in that this brain area is smaller in people who are excessive users. The smaller system can process associations much faster. But like a car, you need to put more gas into it to generate more power.”
The most worrying potential repercussion of all this is that excessive usage could be changing the reward system of children’s brains in the long term, meaning they could be more susceptible to other addictions later in life.
WHO announces new ‘gaming disorder’ classification
Addictive video games have been getting a lot of press in recent times. Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) caused a stir by announcing that it will feature a new gaming disorder classification in its latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
According to the WHO, gaming disorder is characterised by the following:
- Impaired control when gaming
- Prioritising gaming over other interests
- Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences
However, many psychologists have warned that the new classification is too premature and young children aren’t actually addicted. Instead, they say children use video games as a coping mechanism for dealing with other underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression.
The research from California is extremely insightful and may go some way to explaining why some kids simply cannot put down a video game controller once they pick it up.
I joined Premier Choice Group as a Healthcare & Protection Consultant in 2017, where I now look after the needs of over 200 clients nationwide. Prior to joining the Premier Choice Group, I worked for a large Private Healthcare Insurer, VitalityHealth, and managed SME and Individual clients across the country.