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Video game makers use neuroscience to make their games addictive

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Video game creators and marketers are tapping into neuroscience principles to make thir games addictive, offering players surprise rewards and feeding into their desire to keep playing, reports NPR.

American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to prove this kind of behavior more than 60 years ago using lab rats. He would offer them random treats for pushing against a bar, and after some time the rats would repeatedly click the bar hoping to receive a reward.

"An unexpected reward has much more power than one that is regular in driving behavior," head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Nora Volkow told NPR. "This has been known for a very long time.

"Writing a blog that then becomes viral will then hook you to want to repeat that act — that specific experimental story has not been done," she said. "But equivalents have actually [been] shown. The first one was many years ago in which they had people playing a video game, and when individuals got a point, dopamine got activated — an unexpected reward."

There is no definitive research yet on what technologies inspire true addiction, but there is evidence that people who often play video games do so for the neurochemical payoff — the good-feeling chemical dopamine. Volkow likens the behavior of avid gamers to that of Skinner's rats.

"They actually wanted rats to be able to act like little spies, like little robot spies," she said. "You could put a [recorder] in the rat and the rat just has to go where you want it to go and record the conversations that are happening."