Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation for Online Gamers

* These authors contributed equally
This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that applies a weak electric current to the scalp to modulate neuronal membrane potentials. Compared to other brain stimulation methods, tDCS is relatively safe, simple, and inexpensive to administer.

Since excessive online gaming can negatively affect mental health and daily functioning, developing treatment options for gamers is necessary. Although tDCS over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) has demonstrated promising results for various addictions, it has not been tested in gamers. This paper describes a protocol and a feasibility study for applying repeated tDCS over the DLPFC and neuroimaging to examine the underlying neural correlates in gamers.

At baseline, individuals who play online games report average weekly hours spent on games, complete questionnaires on addiction symptoms and self-control, and undergo brain 18F-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). The tDCS protocol consists of 12 sessions over the DLPFC for 4 weeks (anode F3/cathode F4, 2 mA for 30 min per session). Then, a follow-up is conducted using the same protocol as the baseline. Individuals who do not play online games receive only baseline FDG-PET scans without tDCS. Changes of clinical characteristics and asymmetry of regional cerebral metabolic rate of glucose (rCMRglu) in the DLPFC are examined in gamers. In addition, asymmetry of rCMRglu is compared between gamers and non-gamers at baseline.

In our experiment, 15 gamers received tDCS sessions and completed baseline and follow-up scans. Ten non-gamers underwent FDG-PET scans at the baseline. The tDCS reduced addiction symptoms, time spent on games, and increased self-control. Moreover, abnormal asymmetry of rCMRglu in the DLPFC at baseline was alleviated after tDCS.

The current protocol may be useful for assessing treatment efficacy of tDCS and its underlying brain changes in gamers. Further randomized sham-controlled studies are warranted. Moreover, the protocol can be applied to other neurological and psychiatric disorders.