Date of Award

12-13-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Mukesh Dhamala

Second Advisor

Brian Thoms

Third Advisor

Sidong Lei

Abstract

Video game playing is a popular activity that provides a cognitively engaging, sensory rich, competitive environment. Sensorimotor decision-making is a dynamic brain process involving multiple steps that build to make and execute a choice. This dissertation examines the differences in brain mechanisms for decision-making between those who play video games extensively and those who do not for two studies. These studies of video gamers and non-gamers investigated the differences between commonly activated brain regions from both groups and the differences in brain network interactions. We used a modified moving dot left-right discrimination task to examine each group’s decision-making performance and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record the underlying brain activity associated with task completion. Participants had to make decisions about the direction (left or right) of motion of a specific set of color dots.

Video game players (VGP) were found to be faster than non-video game players (NVGP) by approximately 190 milliseconds and overall approximately 2% more accurate. In the commonly activated regions study, we extracted the percent signal change above baseline due to task-induced activity. VGP showed higher levels of percent signal change than NVGP for primary and secondary visual areas and premotor and motor regions. Functional Connectivity (FC) analysis allowed us to examine if the activity from one correlates with the other. Examining FC for commonly activated regions, we found six undirected and four directed increased connections across those regions. We found that VGP displayed increased connections from DLPFC. These findings suggest that VGP perform better on decision-making tasks because of enhanced attention control and visuomotor coordination.

For between network interactions, we examined previously studied decision-making related networks, CEN-SN-DMN, and attention switching networks, DAN-DMN-SN. VGP displayed decreased connectivity from SN to DAN, DMN, and CEN but showed increased connectivity to SN. These findings imply that VGP increases their performance by controlling the SN instead of SN controlling network interactions. These results provide an improved understanding of how cognitively engaging tasks, like video game playing, enhance our abilities to perform sensorimotor tasks even outside of video game playing.

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