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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

There is additional research information for parents to be concerned about how much time their kids spend playing video games. A new study by an international research team, including Iowa State University psychologist, Douglas Gentile, found further evidence that video game "addiction" exists globally and that greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity were risk factors for becoming pathological gamers.

The two-year longitudinal study of 3,034 third through eighth grade students in Singapore found approximately nine percent of gamers to be pathological players according to standards similar to those established by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing gambling addiction. And some serious problems -- including depression, anxiety, social phobias and lower school performance -- seemed to be outcomes of their pathological play.

The researchers report that the percentage of pathological youth gamers in Singapore is similar to other recent video game addiction studies in other countries, including the United States (8.5 percent), China (10.3 percent), Australia (8.0 percent), Germany (11.9 percent) and Taiwan (7.5 percent).

"We're starting to see a number of studies from different cultures -- in Europe, the U.S. and Asia -- and they're all showing that somewhere around 7 to 11 percent of gamers seem to be having real problems to the point that they're considered pathological gamers," said Gentile, who published the first national American study on pathological video game addiction in youths in the May 2009 journal Psychological Science. "And we define that as damage to actual functioning -- their school, social, family, occupational, psychological functioning, etc. To be considered pathological, gamers must be damaging multiple areas of their lives."

"Once they become addicted, pathological gamers were more likely to become depressed, have increased social phobias, and increased anxiety. And they received poorer grades in school," Gentile said. "Therefore, it looks like pathological gaming is not simply a symptom of depression, social phobia or anxiety. In fact, those problems seem to increase as children become more addicted. In addition, when children stopped being addicted, depression, anxiety and social phobias decreased as well."

Among this sample, pathological gamers started with an average of 31 hours of play per week, compared with 19 hours per week for those who never became pathological gamers. But Gentile says those thresholds don't necessarily translate across all cultures, particularly in American children.

"In general, Singaporean children spend more time playing video games than American children," he said. "In the U.S., we didn't follow the kids across time, so we don't know where that threshold is across each culture or if there is a certain amount that is too much. We do know, however, that playing a lot is not the same as being a pathological gamer -- the gaming must be causing problems for it to be considered pathological."

The study will be published in the February 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and has been posted online.