THE QUESTION Some studies say upward of 90 percent of teens regularly play electronic games on computers, tablets, phones or game consoles. What is less certain is how this activity might affect their lives.
THIS STUDY involved 217 adolescents (average age of 13) and assessed the amount of time they spent playing video games and the type of games they played. Using standardized scales, their teachers evaluated the teens’ behavior, academic effort and achievement. Teens who regularly played for three hours or more a day were more likely to be hyperactive, have behavior issues and show less interest in academics than those who played less than an hour a day or not at all.
Teens who played mostly solitary games (in which they were the only player) tended to be more engaged academically and have better peer relationships than others in the study. Teens who gravitated toward multiplayer and competitive games tended to have fewer internalized problems (which generally is used to describe such issues as anxiety, loneliness and withdrawal). No link was found between playing violent games and being involved in real-world violence or conflict or between violent games and the teens’ academic performance.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Teens. Whether time spent on electronic devices affects young people’s social development and behavior has been the target of much speculation and research. Some studies have linked excessive game playing to academic problems and aggressive, antisocial behavior, while others have found the experience beneficial to relationship-building, critical thinking and academic success.
CAVEATS Data on game playing came from the adolescents’ responses. Behavior assessments did not include input from parents. The researchers noted that the findings suggest “that electronic gaming, like most hobbies pursued during childhood, may be one of many activities that help young people develop and can be part of a healthy childhood if pursued in moderation.” The study did not prove that particular games caused specific behaviors; it is possible, instead, that teens with certain behavior traits might be attracted to certain types of games.
FIND THIS STUDY Online issue of Psychology of Popular Media Culture (www.apa.org/pubs/ journals/ppm. Click “Online First” link, then “View article list”) or direct link to the study at psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2015-08821-001.
LEARN MORE ABOUT advice for parents on teens’ screen time at www.kidshealth.org (enter parents’ site, search for “video games”) and www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health (click on “We Can!” and then “Reduce Screen Time”).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment’s effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.