Reward system and temporal pole contributions to affective evaluation during a first person shooter video game

Krystyna A. Mathiak, Martin Klasen, René Weber, Hermann Ackermann, Sukhwinder S. Shergill, Klaus Mathiak

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51 Scopus citations


Background: Violent content in video games evokes many concerns but there is little research concerning its rewarding aspects. It was demonstrated that playing a video game leads to striatal dopamine release. It is unclear, however, which aspects of the game cause this reward system activation and if violent content contributes to it. We combined functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with individual affect measures to address the neuronal correlates of violence in a video game.Results: Thirteen male German volunteers played a first-person shooter game (Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror) during fMRI measurement. We defined success as eliminating opponents, and failure as being eliminated themselves. Affect was measured directly before and after game play using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Failure and success events evoked increased activity in visual cortex but only failure decreased activity in orbitofrontal cortex and caudate nucleus. A negative correlation between negative affect and responses to failure was evident in the right temporal pole (rTP).Conclusions: The deactivation of the caudate nucleus during failure is in accordance with its role in reward-prediction error: it occurred whenever subject missed an expected reward (being eliminated rather than eliminating the opponent). We found no indication that violence events were directly rewarding for the players. We addressed subjective evaluations of affect change due to gameplay to study the reward system. Subjects reporting greater negative affect after playing the game had less rTP activity associated with failure. The rTP may therefore be involved in evaluating the failure events in a social context, to regulate the players' mood.

Original languageEnglish
Article number66
JournalBMC Neuroscience
StatePublished - 12 Jul 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
K.A. Mathiak was supported by the Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) project ‘Realtime fMRI.’ The study was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG; MA2631/4-1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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