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New Evidence That Video Gaming Is Addictive

Excessive gamers develop "attentional bias," similar to people with heroin, alcohol and gambling problems, new research shows.

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By Valerie Tejeda

11/26/12

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Video games are just as addictive as gambling and alcohol, new research suggests. Olivia Metcalf, a graduate student at Australian National University, studied gaming as part of her PhD program. She's demonstrated that excessive gamers, just like heroin, alcohol and gambling addicts, have "attentional bias"—meaning an inability to stop thinking about their habit and focus on other tasks. "We didn't find that pattern in people who play video games but don't experience any negative symptoms," says Metcalf. "So it's not something that occurs because you do a behavior a lot. It's some sort of change that occurs in your attention system, in your brain, when an addiction is developing. We found this core sign of addiction in these thinking systems of these people who play games excessively."

Her research is being hailed as the first scientific evidence that video games can be truly addictive. She presented around 20 excessive gamers with a series of words, asking them to respond to the color of the word, rather than the meaning, and found that (unlike a group of non-gamers) they performed the task more slowly when gaming-related words were involved. "We know that people are gaming excessively but we're not sure yet what type of problem that is," says Metcalf. "There's a lot of speculation that it's an addiction and what we need is this scientific evidence and that's what my research has found. It's found really good objective indicators that excessive gamers are displaying signs of an addiction and that's the first step to lead us to developing treatment and therapies to help those individuals." She notes that only a minority of gamers suffer such negative consequences: "We're really just focusing on helping this minority of individuals who are experiencing negative problems and to make sure that video games stay fun for them. We want video games to stay fun and enjoyable and entertaining for everybody."

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