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Blunted reward prediction error signals in internet gaming disorder

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 November 2020

Wei Lei
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China Laboratory of Neurological Diseases and Brain Function, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Luzhou, China
Kezhi Liu
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China Laboratory of Neurological Diseases and Brain Function, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Guangxiang Chen
Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Luzhou, China Radiology Department, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Serenella Tolomeo
Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
Cuizhen Liu
Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
Zhenlei Peng
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Boya Liu
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Xuemei Liang
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Chaohua Huang
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Bo Xiang
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Jia Zhou
School of Humanities and Management Science, Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Fulin Zhao
Department of Medical Imaging, Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China
Rongjun Yu*
Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore
Jing Chen*
Department of Psychiatry, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China Laboratory of Neurological Diseases and Brain Function, The Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Luzhou, China
Author for correspondence: Rongjun Yu, E-mail:; Jing Chen, E-mail:
Author for correspondence: Rongjun Yu, E-mail:; Jing Chen, E-mail:



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.


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.


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.


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 Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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Wei Lei, Kezhi Liu, Guangxiang Chen, and Serenella Tolomeo contributed equally to this study.


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