Problematic internet use is associated with structural alterations in the brain reward system in females. (2015)

2015 Sep 23. 

Altbäcker A1,2, Plózer E3, Darnai G3, Perlaki G3,4,5, Horváth R3, Orsi G3,4,5, Nagy SA5,6, Bogner P5, Schwarcz A4,7, Kovács N3, Komoly S3, Clemens Z3,8, Janszky J3,4.


Neuroimaging findings suggest that excessive Internet use shows functional and structural brain changes similar to substance addiction. Even though it is still under debate whether there are gender differences in case of problematic use, previous studies by-passed this question by focusing on males only or by using gender matched approach without controlling for potential gender effects.

We designed our study to find out whether there are structural correlates in the brain reward system of problematic Internet use in habitual Internet user females. T1-weighted Magnetic Resonance (MR) images were collected in 82 healthy habitual Internet user females.

Structural brain measures were investigated using both automated MR volumetry and voxel based morphometry (VBM). Self-reported measures of problematic Internet use and hours spent online were also assessed.

According to MR volumetry, problematic Internet use was associated with increased grey matter volume of bilateral putamen and right nucleus accumbens while decreased grey matter volume of orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).

Similarly, VBM analysis revealed a significant negative association between the absolute amount of grey matter OFC and problematic Internet use. Our findings suggest structural brain alterations in the reward system usually related to addictions are present in problematic Internet use.