Cue reactivity and its inhibition in pathological computer game players

Authors


Correspondence to: Robert Christian Lorenz, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charitéplatz 1, Berlin 10117, Germany. E-mail: robert.lorenz@charite.de

Abstract

Despite a rising social relevance of pathological computer game playing, it remains unclear whether the neurobiological basis of this addiction-like behavioral disorder and substance-related addiction are comparable. In substance-related addiction, attentional bias and cue reactivity are often observed. We conducted a functional magnetic resonance study using a dot probe paradigm with short-presentation (attentional bias) and long-presentation (cue reactivity) trials in eight male pathological computer game players (PCGPs) and nine healthy controls (HCs). Computer game-related and neutral computer-generated pictures, as well as pictures from the International Affective Picture System with positive and neutral valence, served as stimuli. PCGPs showed an attentional bias toward both game-related and affective stimuli with positive valence. In contrast, HCs showed no attentional bias effect at all. PCGPs showed stronger brain responses in short-presentation trials compared with HCs in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate gyrus and in long-presentation trials in lingual gyrus. In an exploratory post hoc functional connectivity analyses, for long-presentation trials, connectivity strength was higher between right inferior frontal gyrus, which was associated with inhibition processing in previous studies, and cue reactivity-related regions (left orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum) in PCGPs. We observed behavioral and neural effects in PCGPs, which are comparable with those found in substance-related addiction. However, cue-related brain responses were depending on duration of cue presentation. Together with the connectivity result, these findings suggest that top-down inhibitory processes might suppress the cue reactivity-related neural activity in long-presentation trials.

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