Iowa State researcher contributes to global study on video game addiction

In this Nov. 9, 2006 file photo, visitors at the Sony Building in downtown Tokyo play Sony's next-generation video game Playstation 3. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara, File)
In this Nov. 9, 2006 file photo, visitors at the Sony Building in downtown Tokyo play Sony's next-generation video game Playstation 3. (AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara, File)

Parents who think their child is addicted to video games might just be right.

A new study shows that nearly one in 10 gamers becomes addicted, with serious consequences that include depression, anxiety and social phobias.

“It really isn’t just how much you play,” said lead author Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State University associate professor of psychology. “It’s how you can keep this in balance with your responsibilities.”

The two-year study, published online today for the February issue of Pediatrics, followed 3,034 third- through eighth-grade students in Singapore.

Students were surveyed annually on the amount of their video game play and behavior between 2007 and 2009.

Surveys were conducted in classrooms by teachers trained by the researchers. The study had a 99 percent response rate.

Researchers found between 7.6 and 9.9 percent of students could be defined as pathological gamers over the two-year period. Gentile said the numbers correspond with previous studies in the United States and other countries.

Eighty-four percent of students first classified as pathological gamers — when games interfered with school, home or social life — were found to still be addicted two years later.

“So it’s a long-term problem for many kids,” Gentile said.

The study determined that students most at risk were more impulsive, less socially competent and played video games more than average: 31 hours per week, compared with 19 hours weekly for those who never became pathological gamers.

Outcomes of the addiction included poor grades in school, depression and social phobias.

If students were able to overcome their addiction, those problems dissipated, Gentile said.

Gentile published a previous study that showed 8.5 percent of American gamers became addicted, or about 3 million children.

But that earlier study didn’t prove if children had poor grades and other difficulties because of their addiction or if they became addicted to escape those problems.

“This study answers many of those questions because we followed the kids for two years,” Gentile said.

Singapore is similar to the U.S. Both are highly industrialized, modern countries, he noted, but children in Singapore spend more time playing video games than American children.

Still, Gentile said, “the human brain learns in the same way, no matter where we are in the world.”

There is not yet an official diagnosis for video game addiction, which would allow treatment to be covered by insurance.

Gentile suggested parents treat playing time similar to allowances by setting a budgeted limit per week, such as 10 hours, and allow the child to decide when to use that time.“You want to set limits for kids, but you want them to learn to set limits for themselves,” he said. “That’s the real message for parents.”

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