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Video Game Addiction Linked to Psychological, School Problems


If you are worried about how much time your kids spend playing video games, you may have reasons to be concerned. Video game addiction has become a global phenomenon, and a new study has linked it to psychological and school problems, including depression, poorer grades, anxiety, and social phobia.

Video game addiction affects about 10 percent of children

Dr. Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, and five colleagues from Hong Kong and Singapore, conducted a two-year study in which the video gaming habits of 3,034 elementary and secondary school children from 12 different schools in Singapore were surveyed by teachers. The data were analyzed using standards similar to those developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for the diagnosis of gambling addiction.

Gentile and his team found that between 7.9 and 9.9 percent of the children had behaviors that could be defined as pathological gaming, and that 84 percent of the gamers maintained their behavior throughout the entire two years of the study. Only 1 percent of children became pathological gamers during the study.

Pathological gamers are individuals whose gaming activities are detrimental to their family, school, social, occupational, and psychological functioning. The study’s authors found that pathological gamers started with an average of 31 hours of video game play per week compared with 19 hours for children who did not become pathological gamers.

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According to the authors, “Greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity seemed to act as risk factors for becoming pathological gamers, whereas depression, anxiety, social phobias, and lower school performance seemed to act as outcomes of pathological gaming.”

Gentile pointed out that children who are pathological gamers can change. “When children stopped being addicted, depression, anxiety and social phobias decreased as well,” he said. He also noted that globally, 7 to 11 percent of video gamers appear to have problems that qualify them to be defined as pathological gamers.

Parents whose children are pathological gamers can seek help from mental health professionals. In the United Kingdom, the first Young Person Technology Addiction Service provides help for young people who have internet, game, and other technology addictions. Parents can also turn to nonprofessional assistance on the Internet from sites such as the Video Game Addiction website.

In an earlier study by Gentile, he found that 8.5 percent of 1,178 young people were addicted to video games. In his study, “Pathological Video Game Use among Youth 8 to 18: A National Study,” he noted that young people may be suffering from family, social, school, and psychological damage because of video game addiction.

Not all children who play video games for hours have a video game addiction. As Gentile emphasized, “the gaming must be causing problems for it to be considered pathological.” Results of this latest study show a link between video game addiction and psychological, social, and school problems in children.

Gentile D. Psychological Science 2009 May; 20(5): 594-602
Iowa State University news release