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It’s no secret, video gaming can be an addictive behavior.

Even though many studies have found similarities between video game addiction and other addictive behaviors, there is little-to-no information available to explain the specific origins of addictive gaming behavior.  The spread of computer gaming among adolescents and young adults can result in potential negative impacts on normal brain development.  And researchers are looking for studies to come up with preventive measures.

Three Harrisburg University professors have teamed with students to begin a study that examines addictive behavior in gaming. During a pilot study, the team will investigate brain activity to identify the characteristics of addictive behavior in gaming and esports (competitive gaming).

The study is entitled “A Deep Learning Approach to Find the Correlation Between Addiction Behavior in Gaming and Brain Activation Using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS).” In this research, the team will employ fNIRS and a second technology called Iowa Gabling Task (IGT) to study the relationship between the choices one makes in life and the activation of different brain regions in the prefrontal area of the brain. The brain activation in any brain region is measured by an increase of oxygenation recorded by fNIRS.

“Using both approaches, IGT and fNIRS gives us a new mechanism that enables us to make more accurate characterizations about the link between a person’s decision-making abilities, their hemodynamic (blood flow) factors, and the responses recorded for each patient during this experiment,” said Dr. Siamak Aram, an Data Analytics professor at HU who is working on the project with fellow Analytics professor Dr. Roozbeh Sadeghian, and Dr. Saeed Esmaili-Sardari, an ISEM and Computer and Information Systems professor at the University.

To help the professors work with students to complete the project, HU President Dr. Eric Darr awarded the group a nearly $20,000 HU Presidential Research Grant. The study will provide the start of a hypothesis on how the choices one makes are connected to the prefrontal cortex’s blood flow changes.

The professors and students (one who is earning their PhD; two Master Degree students, and two undergraduates) now are recruiting participants who will be outfitted with fNIRS headgear while using the IGT that will record the hemodynamic changes in their prefrontal cortexes as they play a game.

The University is collaborating on the study with the Translational Biophotonics Lab at the National Institutes of Health. This relationship is a major boost for the project as the University going forward, Dr. Aram said.

The study presents numerous benefits to the University and students, he said. Among these benefits – students gain hands-on experience using cutting-edge technology and methodologies. Moreover, the project encourages students from three different HU programs to take an interdisciplinary approach to confronting complex human issues, Dr. Aram said.

“This project will provide a great opportunity for students to experience working and collaborating with a team in one of the most prestigious health institutes in the world (NIH),” Dr. Aram said. “The University will use this application as a baseline or guideline to monitor and then guide not only students, but also the community.”

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