Internet gaming disorder (IGD) has become a global health problem. The self-regulation model noted that a shift to reward system, whether due to overwhelming reward-seeking or impaired control, can lead to self-regulation failures, e.g., addiction. The present study focused on the reward processing of IGD, aiming to provide insights into the etiology of IGD. Reward processing includes three phases: reward anticipation, outcome monitoring and choice evaluation. However, it is not clear which phases of reward processing are different between individuals with IGD and healthy controls (HC).
To address this issue, the present study asked 27 individuals with IGD and 26 HC to complete a roulette task during a functional MRI scan.
Compared with HC, individuals with IGD preferred to take risks in pursuit of high rewards behaviorally and showed exaggerated brain activity in the striatum (nucleus accumbens and caudate) during the reward anticipation and outcome monitoring but not during the choice evaluation.
These results reveal that the oversensitivity of the reward system to potential and positive rewards in college students with IGD drives them to approach risky options more frequently although they are able to assess the risk values of options and the correctness of decisions properly as HC do.
These findings provide partial support for the application of the self-regulation model to the IGD population. Moreover, this study enriches this model from the perspective of three phases of reward processing and provides specific targets for future research regarding effective treatment of IGD.