While a number of studies have looked for a link between violent games and violent behavior in children, there has been relatively little attention paid to the correlations gaming might have with other behavior, whether it be getting good grades or drug use. A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics seeks to address that gap, reporting on the results of an anonymous survey of 4,082 14- to 18-year-old Connecticut high school students.
A group of doctors from the Yale University School of Medicine's psychology department looked at correlations between male and female gamers and grade point average, marijuana and alcohol use, depression, participation in extracurricular activities, and use of caffeine, as well as their history of fights requiring medical attention and bringing weapons to school. They also asked respondents if they have ever unsuccessfully tried to cut back on gaming, experienced an irresistible urge to play, and felt a growing tension that can only be relieved by playing; three traits used to define impulse-control disorders (ICD) like pathologic gambling. Just over half of the students surveyed gamed at all, with 76.3 percent of boys and 29.2 percent of girls identifying as gamers.
The researchers found that among boys, regular gaming was associated with higher grade-point averages and caffeine consumption. This group was also less likely to be a regular cigarette smoker or to have tried marijuana.
In girls, gaming was associated with never having tried marijuana or alcohol and having no history of depression, but it was also tied to occasional smoking, high caffeine use, serious fights, carrying a weapon to school, and a slightly higher body-mass index.
Gender also played a role in how likely survey respondents were to indicate problematic gaming along the lines of an ICD. Of those surveyed, 84 boys (5.9 percent) responded in the affirmative to the three ICD traits, while only 22 girls (3 percent) indicated the same. Problematic gamers were associated with higher odds of smoking regularly, depression, and fighting. They were also associated to a lesser extent with higher chances of drug use and carrying weapons to schools.
The researchers were quick to point out that their results don't necessarily indicate a causal relationship, saying, "[T]his finding may suggest not that gaming leads to aggression but that more aggressive girls are attracted to gaming as a recreational activity. The finding also may reflect cultural differences in socio-economic conditions at home and in their communities." For example, they said it is possible girls in violent neighborhoods who carry weapons for protection may be more likely to stay home and play games instead of go out in dangerous communities.
As for next steps, the researchers said more work is needed to determine safe levels of gaming and identify risk factors for problematic gaming. Additionally, they called for more studies on possible intervention points and ways to prevent problematic gaming, as well as research into beneficial uses of games.