Brain structures and activity during a working memory task associated with internet addiction tendency in young adults: A large sample study

PLoS One. 2021 Nov 15;16(11):e0259259. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0259259. eCollection 2021.


The structural and functional brain characteristics associated with the excessive use of the internet have attracted substantial research attention in the past decade. In current study, we used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and multiple regression analysis to assess the relationship between internet addiction tendency (IAT) score and regional gray and white matter volumes (rGMVs and rWMVs) and brain activity during a WM task in a large sample of healthy young adults (n = 1,154, mean age, 20.71 ± 1.78 years). We found a significant positive correlation between IAT score and gray matter volume (GMV) of right supramarginal gyrus (rSMG) and significant negative correlations with white matter volume (WMV) of right temporal lobe (sub-gyral and superior temporal gyrus), right sublobar area (extra-nuclear and lentiform nucleus), right cerebellar anterior lobe, cerebellar tonsil, right frontal lobe (inferior frontal gyrus and sub-gyral areas), and the pons. Also, IAT was significantly and positively correlated with brain activity in the default-mode network (DMN), medial frontal gyrus, medial part of the superior frontal gyrus, and anterior cingulate cortex during a 2-back working memory (WM) task. Moreover, whole-brain analyses of rGMV showed significant effects of interaction between sex and the IAT scores in the area spreading around the left anterior insula and left lentiform. This interaction was moderated by positive correlation in women. These results indicate that IAT is associated with (a) increased GMV in rSMG, which is involved in phonological processing, (b) decreased WMV in areas of frontal, sublobar, and temporal lobes, which are involved in response inhibition, and (c) reduced task-induced deactivation of the DMN, indicative of altered attentional allocation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Humans
  • Internet Addiction Disorder*
  • Memory, Short-Term

Grants and funding

This study was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) (KAKENHI 23700306) and a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A) (KAKENHI 25700012) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The funder provided support in the form of salaries for authors H.T., but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and, analysis, decision to publish, or manuscript preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘”author contributions’ contributions” section.