Dr. Simone Kuhn of Charite University Medicine in Berlin and a large team of European colleagues looked at 154 Berlin school children split into two groups: infrequent video gamers, who played on average about 4 hours per week and frequent gamers, who played about 21 hours a week on average.
When the children, who were frequent gamers, underwent a magnetic resonance imaging scan, the researchers found the ventral striatum of the brain had more gray matter in the frequent video gamers, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
"The ventral striatum is usually associated with everything that brings pleasure," Kuhn said in a statement. "For instance food and monetary reward. It's also been associated with some addictions. If you show a smoker a cigarette for example, the ventral striatum is activated."
An important feature of the study is that none of the children were addicted to video games, Kuhn said.
Does video gaming make the pleasure center larger or do people with larger pleasure centers take up video games? Kuhn said another study showed enlargement of the nearby dorsal striatum enabled people to perform better in video games, taking quicker decisions. This favors the brain leading the behavior and Kuhn said her hunch is that playing the video games makes the pleasure center grow larger, but more research is needed.
The findings were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.