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Chinese Researchers Say Internet Addiction Causes Grey Matter Atrophy in Cerebral Cortex

Research out of China shows that too much time spent playing games in front of a computer screen each day can actually rot your brain. Using MRI scans, researchers found grey matter atrophy in very heavy internet game players.

Internet gaming addiction is a pretty big problem in China, and researchers there wondered what spending all day, every day, staring into a computer screen might be doing for brain development and neural health.

To find out, they recruited 18, 19 year old university students, all of whom had been classified as internet addicts (they played online games for an average of 8 to 13 hours per day, at least 6 days per week) and then used MRI scans to compare the brains of the internet addicted teens to 18 control subjects, each of whom spent 2 hours per day or less online.

  • They found that the internet addicted teens displayed grey matter atrophy in certain areas of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher order processing, like thinking, memory and speech – and that longer durations of internet addiction resulted in worsened grey matter atrophy.

While the researchers acknowledge that these brain abnormalities could have pre-existed the excessive internet usage, they believe that the internet usage is in fact causing the brain changes, arguing,  'Our results suggested long-term internet addiction would result in brain structural alterations. '

Commenting on the findings, Dr Aric Sigman of the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK called the study a “wake up call” for change and said,  'It strikes me as a terrible shame that our society requires photos of brains shrinking in order to take seriously the common-sense assumption that long hours in front of screens is not good for our children’s health. '

The full study results can be found in the PLoS One

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