July 13, 2011

Sad or bad? The link between using the internet, playing games, and how young people behave.

Holtz, P. & Appel, M. (2011). Internet use and video gaming predict problem behavior in early adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 34 (1), 49-58.

In modern society it is common for adolescents to play video games, some of which may be inappropriate. The authors of this paper suggested that the media has a role in the formation of a sense of identity for young people and that they could be identifying with aggressive material they are exposed to. The authors’ aim was to investigate whether playing inappropriate video games can lead to externalizing and internalizing problems. Externalizing problems are overt and easily observed, e.g. aggression and delinquency. Internalizing problems occur within an individual and are more subtle, e.g. depression, anxiety, and withdrawal.

The study had two aims:
  1. To investigate whether or not internet usage is related to different kinds of problem behaviour in adolescents and if communication with parents about internet usage would have an effect on this relationship.
  2. To investigate if playing video games would be related to different kinds of problem behaviour in adolescence and whether or not the genre of these video games would have an effect.

The authors collected data from 205 (100 male) Austrian adolescents aged 10-14. Overall, 185 adolescents reported using internet. These young people were asked to state how often they used the internet and what they used the internet for (i.e. to collect information, to communicate with others, or to play games online). They were also asked if they talked to their parents about their internet usage and if their parents knew what they used the internet for. Only 81 adolescents reported communicating with their parents about their internet usage. Externalizing and internalizing were assessed using the Youth Self Report (YSR) scale.

No gender differences were found for the amount of time spent online. However there were differences found for the different ways of using the internet. Girls were more likely than boys to use the internet to get information and to communicate with others, whereas boys were more likely than girls to use the internet to play games.

The results showed that playing games and communicating (but not seeking information) online were related to externalizing problems such as aggression and delinquency.  Online gaming (but not online communication or information seeking) was related to internalizing problems such as anxiety and withdrawal.  Interestingly, the 81 adolescents who communicated with their parents about their internet usage were less likely to show problem behaviours than the other 104 adolescents.

Adolescents who played “first-person shooter” games (in which an individual advances through the game and shoots from a first-person perspective, e.g. Call of Duty) showed externalizing problems (such as anxiety and delinquency). In contrast, adolescents who played “fantasy role-play” games (in which the gamer becomes part of a virtual network and acts out the role of a virtual character, e.g. World of Warcraft) showed internalizing problems (such as anxiety and withdrawal). These results could suggest that fantasy games encourage adolescents to cut themselves off from reality and withdraw, becoming anxious about real life. Interestingly adolescents who played racing games were less likely to show internalizing problems. Thus, it could be advised that certain adolescents be encouraged to play racing games either as an alternative or an accompaniment to fantasy games.

In conclusion, these results show that internet and video game use can have negative effects for adolescents, if not managed properly. The take home message of this study should be for parents to ensure that they regularly communicate with their children about their internet use and also monitor how often their children play certain types of video game – particularly first-person shooter games and fantasy games.

This summary was produced by Lynsey Emery, an undergraduate student who is entering her final year. Her dissertation is focussing on the relationships between theory of mind, the hostile attribution bias, and proactive and reactive aggression.