Blunted reward prediction error signals in internet gaming disorder

Wei Lei, Kezhi Liu, Guangxiang Chen, Serenella Tolomeo, Cuizhen Liu, Zhenlei Peng, Boya Liu, Xuemei Liang, Chaohua Huang, Bo Xiang, Jia Zhou, Fulin Zhao, Rongjun Yu*, Jing Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is a type of behavioural addictions. One of the key features of addiction is the excessive exposure to addictive objectives (e.g. drugs) reduces the sensitivity of the brain reward system to daily rewards (e.g. money). This is thought to be mediated via the signals expressed as dopaminergic reward prediction error (RPE). Emerging evidence highlights blunted RPE signals in drug addictions. However, no study has examined whether IGD also involves alterations in RPE signals that are observed in other types of addictions. 

Methods: To fill this gap, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 45 IGD and 42 healthy controls (HCs) during a reward-related prediction-error task and utilised a psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis to characterise the underlying neural correlates of RPE and related functional connectivity. 

Results: Relative to HCs, IGD individuals showed impaired reinforcement learning, blunted RPE signals in multiple regions of the brain reward system, including the right caudate, left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Moreover, the PPI analysis revealed a pattern of hyperconnectivity between the right caudate, right putamen, bilateral DLPFC, and right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) in the IGD group. Finally, linear regression suggested that the connection between the right DLPFC and right dACC could significantly predict the variation of RPE signals in the left OFC. 

Conclusions: These results highlight disrupted RPE signalling and hyperconnectivity between regions of the brain reward system in IGD. Reinforcement learning deficits may be crucial underlying characteristics of IGD pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2124-2133
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number11
Early online date4 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

User-Defined Keywords

  • Addiction
  • brain reward system
  • fMRI
  • internet gaming disorder
  • reinforcement learning
  • reward prediction error


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