Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Reward system and temporal pole contributions to affective evaluation during a first person shooter video game

Krystyna A Mathiak1234*, Martin Klasen25, René Weber6, Hermann Ackermann4, Sukhwinder S Shergill3 and Klaus Mathiak257

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Neuenhofer Weg 21, 52074 Aachen, Germany

2 Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr.30. 52074 Aachen, Germany

3 King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Box P096, De Crespigny Park, SE5 8AF London, UK

4 Hertie-Institute for Translation Brain Research, Graduate School of Neural & Behavioural Sciences, University of Tübingen, Hoppe-Seyler-Straße 3, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

5 Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance (JARA) - Translational Brain Medicine, Germany

6 Department of Communication, University of California, 4405 Social Sciences & Media Studies Building, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-4020, USA

7 INM-1, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Wilhelm-Johnen-Straße, 52428 Jülich, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:66  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-66

Published: 12 July 2011



Violent content in video games evokes many concerns but there is little research concerning its rewarding aspects. It was demonstrated that playing a video game leads to striatal dopamine release. It is unclear, however, which aspects of the game cause this reward system activation and if violent content contributes to it. We combined functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with individual affect measures to address the neuronal correlates of violence in a video game.


Thirteen male German volunteers played a first-person shooter game (Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror) during fMRI measurement. We defined success as eliminating opponents, and failure as being eliminated themselves. Affect was measured directly before and after game play using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Failure and success events evoked increased activity in visual cortex but only failure decreased activity in orbitofrontal cortex and caudate nucleus. A negative correlation between negative affect and responses to failure was evident in the right temporal pole (rTP).


The deactivation of the caudate nucleus during failure is in accordance with its role in reward-prediction error: it occurred whenever subject missed an expected reward (being eliminated rather than eliminating the opponent). We found no indication that violence events were directly rewarding for the players. We addressed subjective evaluations of affect change due to gameplay to study the reward system. Subjects reporting greater negative affect after playing the game had less rTP activity associated with failure. The rTP may therefore be involved in evaluating the failure events in a social context, to regulate the players' mood.