Research: Interactivity and Reward-Related Neural Activation
by Steven W. Cole, Daniel J. Yoo, Brian Knutson
HopeLab Foundation, Redwood City, California, United States of America, 2 Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America
This study sought to determine whether playing a ‘‘serious’’ interactive digital game (IDG) – the Re-Mission videogame for cancer patients – activates mesolimbic neural circuits associated with incentive motivation, and if so, whether such effects stem from the participatory aspects of interactive gameplay, or from the complex sensory/perceptual engagement generated by its dynamic event-stream. Healthy undergraduates were randomized to groups in which they were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) as they either actively played Re-Mission or as they passively observed a gameplay audio-visual stream generated by a yoked active group subject. Onset of interactive game play robustly activated mesolimbic projection regions including the caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens, as well as a subregion of the parahippocampal gyrus. During interactive gameplay, subjects showed extended activation of the thalamus, anterior insula, putamen, and motor-related regions, accompanied by decreased activation in parietal and medial prefrontal cortex. Offset of interactive gameplay activated the anterior insula and anterior cingulate. Between-group comparisons of within-subject contrasts confirmed that mesolimbic activation was significantly more pronounced in the active playgroup than in the passive exposure control group. Individual difference analyses also found the magnitude of parahippocampal activation following gameplay onset to correlate with positive attitudes toward chemotherapy assessed both at the end of the scanning session and at an unannounced one-month follow-up. These findings suggest that IDG-induced activation of reward-related mesolimbic neural circuits stems primarily from participatory engagement in gameplay (interactivity), rather than from the effects of vivid and dynamic sensory stimulation.
Citation: Cole SW, Yoo DJ, Knutson B (2012) Interactivity and Reward-Related Neural Activation during a Serious Videogame. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33909. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033909
Editor: Shu-ichi Okamoto, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, United States of America
Received August 12, 2011; Accepted February 20, 2012; Published March 19, 2012
Copyright: 2012 Cole et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
This research was supported by an unrestricted gift from the nonprofit HopeLab Foundation to Brian Knutson. HopeLab also supplied the Re-Mission videogame used as a stimulus in this study. The design, conduct, analysis, and reporting of this study represents a scientific collaboration between Brian Knutson and Steve Cole. Steve Cole serves as Vice President for Research and Development at the HopeLab Foundation, which develops play-based behavioral interventions to improve health and seeks to optimize and better understand the mechanisms of such interventions. As such, one person employed by the funders of this research had a role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, and preparation of the manuscript. None of the authors have any financial or other conflicting interest in the scientific results of this study.
The authors have read the journal’s policy and have the following conflicts to report: Brian Knutson and Dan Yoo received grant support from the study sponsor (nonprofit HopeLab Foundation). Steve Cole serves as Vice President for Research & Development at HopeLab Foundation, and is a paid employee of HopeLab. The authors declare that they hold no other competing interests. This does not alter the authors’ adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.