Sex, Video Games and the Brain

video game playing woman

While playing video games on a computer men generally exhibit greater activation of the mesocorticolimbic reward circuitry and also greater connectivity. Male were more effective in gaining space and learned the implicit goal faster than females. This was the only observed gender difference in performance.

The mesolimbic pathway is thought to be involved in producing pleasurable feeling, and is often associated with feelings of reward and desire, particularly because of the connection to the nucleus accumbens, which is also associated with these states. Recent research has pointed towards this pathway being involved in incentive salience rather than euphoric mood states.

A possible explanation for this finding is that the goal to ‘‘gain more space” in this game acted as a reward for males relative to females, whether or not it was consciously perceived as rewarding by the subjects. This significant association between goal achievement and learning and brain activation
profile occurs predominantly in males in this study.

The researchers excluded possible confounds due to neuropsychological profiles, lower-level motor performance, and computer and video-game experience.

This study was a functional magnetic resonance imaging study contrasting a space-infringement game with a control condition. The aim was to compare males and females and preform fMRI imaging during active and control situation while playing a video game.

This result could explain why females do not play computer games as much as men.
They don’t seem to find playing video games as rewarding as men.

Other explanations for this gender differences are:

  • Boys and girls are treated differently online, with girls experiencing more unpleasant interactions. An overtly hostile environment toward women could be a reason more women do not play computer games.
  • Overall, the roles women play in the games are stereotyped and secondary to male characters.

These stereotypes were researched recently in an online survey conducted on women who played computer games and women who used the computer but did not play computer games.

The results:

  • It appears that women who do not play games experience more sexual harassment online, and that women who play games less experience more sexual harassment online. Moreover, women only play video games online, not chatting, they experience significantly less sexual harassment online.
  • Women who game at the exclusion of chatting and vice versa did not differ in sex role stereotyping.
  • Women who chatted without gaming were more accepting of interpersonal violence than women who gamed without chatting. This is not expected. The hypothesis was that women gaming would be more accepting to interpersonal violence.
  • Women who play computer games have no more masculine gender identities than women who use chat rooms only.
  • Women who play computer games are no more aggressive than women who use computers for chat rooms but do not play computer games.

In conclusion:

Women who played computer games perceived their online environments as less friendly but experienced less sexual harassment online, were more aggressive themselves, and did not differ in gender identity, degree of sex role stereotyping, or acceptance of sexual violence when compared to women who used the computer but did not play video games

Probably there are more women online playing video games than men realize. Maybe using gender neutral aliases.
F HOEFT, C WATSON, S KESLER, K BETTINGER, A REISS (2008). Gender differences in the mesocorticolimbic system during computer game-play Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42 (4), 253-258 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2007.11.010
Norris, K O (2004). Gender Stereotypes, Aggression, and Computer Games: An Online Survey of Women CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7 (6), 714-727 DOI: 15687807