Are Video Games Linked to Depression and Behavior Issues?

Person playing a video game while sitting in orange chairA study that looked at children who played 1990s shooting-oriented video games suggests an association between video games and an increase in conduct issues—but only a small increase. The study, which was published in PLOS One, is just one of many studies that have attempted to explore the correlation between violent video games and violent behavior.

Weak Association Between Video Games and Violence

Researchers pulled data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which involved 14,541 pregnant women living in Avon, UK, whose anticipated due dates were between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992. The team looked at 5,400 children of study participants. Each child completed the Development and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) with ALSPAC researchers when they were 15 years old; 4,745 answered questions about their conduct, and 5,369 responded to questions about depression. These two factors have, in some studies, correlated with playing violent video games. Researchers also gathered data on video game habits between ages 8 and 9 for 2,453 of the children.

The team controlled for a range of factors thought to increase the risk of conduct issues and depression, including a family history of mental health diagnoses, maternal socioeconomic status and education, gender, IQ, family composition, history of being bullied, and a history of emotional issues.

Even after controlling for these factors, researchers found a modest increase in the risk of conduct issues among children who played shooting-based video games. Overall, they found a 19% increase in the risk of having high levels of conduct issues among children who played shooting games between 8 and 9 years old. This increase was on the border of statistical significance, which means video game play had a weak correlation with conduct issues.

The study found no link between the number or frequency of games children played and their risk of conduct issues. While researchers did find a correlation between video game play and depression, this association disappeared when they controlled for other factors. This suggests children who played video games may have shared something else in common that contributed to their depression, not that video games cause depression.

The Final Word on Video Games and Behavior Issues?

Because the correlation researchers found between game play and behavioral issues was only a weak one, this study does not provide conclusive data on the effects of video game play. Previous studies have found conflicting results. The results of any given study on video games may change depending on the factors for which researchers control, the way violence is defined, and the type of video games studied.

In addition to studying the correlation between video games and violence, some studies have found positive effects of video game play. Recent research from this year suggests children with autism might actually benefit from video game play.

References:

  1. Etchells, P. J., Gage, S. H., Rutherford, A. D., & Munafò, M. R. (2016). Prospective investigation of video game use in children and subsequent conduct disorder and depression using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. PLOS One, 11(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147732
  2. O’Grady, C. (2016, February 7). Kids who played shoot-em-up games in the ‘90s were probably (mostly) OK. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/02/kids-who-played-shoot-em-up-games-in-the-90s-were-probably-mostly-ok/

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  • Harold

    Harold

    February 10th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    Like so many other things I think that this is going to be something that will affect one person in a very hard and profound way and then there will be another person that is not impacted by it at all.
    That is just the way that life is and I think that you would be very hard pressed to come up with one specific thing that would point ot this kids of serious correlation. It is all dependent on the person.

  • terra

    terra

    February 11th, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    We are always searching for anything to pin the blame on and honestly there are times when there is no one thing or no one to blame. It simply is what it is. Then you have to either learn to live with i or discover ways to help ease the issues, but blame is never the answer when looking for a real and lasting solution.

  • Michael

    Michael

    February 12th, 2016 at 7:53 AM

    Ha! Look at the parents, not the games. That’s where the problem is most likely to lie.

  • sonia

    sonia

    February 12th, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    So maybe I can see how some behavioral problems could stem from too much time in front of the tv and playing video games. But i think that it is wrong to imply that something like depression could stem from this. How is this even possible? This is a chemical thing right? You are not going to get depressed over not being able to play your games or playing them too much!

  • Matthew

    Matthew

    February 15th, 2016 at 10:28 AM

    Honestly I find that I am depressed sometimes but you know what helps me escape that for a little bit and think about having a little bit of fun?
    Video games.
    That kind of takes me to a better place, a different place where I can concentrate on something totally different and honestly that time always makes me feel better, not worse.

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