BEHAVIOR
June 8, 2020

Hey Kids, Show This to Your Parents

Yes, video games can disrupt kids' attention and socializing, but the long-term effects aren't too bad.

Video games are a guilty pleasure for many of us. Yet the violent nature of many of them and their ability to keep us playing for hours on end has caused a great deal of concern.

In an effort to measure how harmful video games actually are, researchers studied their effect on the lives of teenagers as they were transitioning into adulthood. Their findings are encouraging for anyone who is worried about what video games are doing to our teens.

The focus wasn't on how much people played video games, it was on how much playing games was affecting other aspects of their life and personality — so-called pathological gaming.

The findings argue against the stereotype of gamers living in their parents' basements, unable to support themselves or get a job because of their video game habit.

Pathological video game play is characterized not only by excessive time spent playing video games, but also by difficulty disengaging from them and the disruption playing them causes in people's lives.

Nearly 400 teens, average age 15, for whom video games were not causing serious problems were tracked for changes in gaming, behavior and personality over six years. Participants completed multiple questionnaires every year throughout the study.

Only 10 percent developed increasing problems with video game play. This included increased levels of depression, aggression, shyness, problem cellphone use and anxiety. The other 90 percent were playing in a way that caused them no significant harm.

Those players who exhibited more prosocial behavior — behavior intended to benefit other people or society as a whole, such as lending a helping hand to others — tended to be a protective factor against developing these symptoms. Low levels of prosocial behavior, as well as being male, were the two characteristics that made people likelier to end up in the pathological gaming group.

It's hard to stop being male, but most of us could add a bit more prosocial behavior to our life. So if you think video games might be having a bad influence on you, get out and help someone or do some volunteer work.

Other findings from the study argue against the stereotype of gamers living in their parents' basements, unable to support themselves or get a job because of their video game habit. For the vast majority of people in this study, video games did not lead to harmful consequences; and when people reached their early twenties, the pathological video game users were just as financially well off as the others.

An article on the study appears in Developmental Psychology.

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