In the past, video games have been associated with antisocial behavior. But a light amount of gaming may not damage kids' social adjustment.
A recent study found that children and teens who spent a small amount of time playing video or computer games had more positive social interactions than those who played a lot or didn't play at all. The light gamers also showed fewer signs of acting out or depression and anxiety.
But those who played excessively — more than three hours every day — tended to be more antisocial and have more problems like depression or anxiety.
The study, conducted by Andrew Przybylski, PhD, of the University of Oxford in England, looked at whether the time spent playing video games affected kids' social development.
Dr. Przybylski analyzed the data from 2,436 boys and 2,463 girls between 10 and 15 years old who participated in the UK Understanding Society Household Longitudinal Study.
The children and adolescents came from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They answered questions about how much time they spent playing video and computer games each day.
Another part of the survey contained questions to determine what internalizing or externalizing problems the children and teens experienced.
Externalizing problems referred to behavior issues like acting out, aggression, rule-breaking and hyperactivity. Internalizing referred to issues like depression, anxiety and antisocial behavior.
Other parts of the survey measured life satisfaction levels and how social, helpful and well-adjusted the participants were.
When Dr. Przybylski examined all this data together, he found two associations between behavior and gaming.
Children and teens who played less than an hour of video or computer games a day tended to have higher life satisfaction and more social and helpful behavior than those who did not play computer or video games at all. The light gamers also tended to have fewer externalizing and internalizing difficulties than non-gamers.
However, children and teens playing more than three hours of video or computer games a day tended to have lower life satisfaction and more social and personal difficulties than non-gamers.
Those who played a moderate amount — between one and three hours a day — did not display any differences in social or psychological adjustment compared to children and teens who did not play games at all.
All of these connections, however, were small. The findings also did not show that it was necessarily the video or computer games that caused any problems or helped children and teens. More research might show why the associations between gaming and life satisfaction and social behavior exist.
"Games consistently but not robustly associated with children’s adjustment in both positive and negative ways, findings that inform policy-making as well as future avenues for research in the area," Dr. Przybylski wrote.
The study was published Aug. 4 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not use external funding, and the author reported no conflicts of interest.