RSNA 2018: What fMRI tells us about men with internet gaming disorder

The brains of men with internet gaming disorder (IGD) showcase issues not present in the brains of women with the same disorder, according to a new study presented Nov. 28 at RSNA 2018 in Chicago.

“Internet use is an integral part of the daily lives of many young adults, and a loss of control over Internet use could lead to various negative effects,” senior author Yawen Sun, MD, department of radiology at Ren Ji Hospital in Shanghai, China, said in a prepared statement. “Internet gaming disorder has become a major public health concern worldwide among both adolescents and young adults.”

The researchers studied resting state fMRI data of 32 men and 23 women with IGD, described as “a condition characterized by compulsive playing of online games to the exclusion of other interests.” Those findings were compared to data from a control group of 30 men and 22 women.

Men with IGD showed signs of alterations in regional- and network-level brain function—including lower brain activity in the superior frontal gyrus—but women with IGD did not have such changes.

“Our findings demonstrated that alterations in cerebral activity are observed in men with IGD, but not in women with IGD, and that the lower brain activity in the superior frontal gyrus in men with IGD may be associated with higher impulsivity,” Sun said in the same statement.

One possible reason for this difference between men and women, she added, was that the prefrontal cortex matures later in men. This same part of the brain is often discussed by researchers exploring individuals dealing with substance abuse issues.

The team behind the study did note there is still more about this topic that needs to be explored.

“It remains unclear whether the brain functional and structural changes found in IGD are gaming-induced or precursors for vulnerability,” Sun said. “I think future research should focus on using functional MRI to identify brain susceptibility factors relating to the development of IGD.”