Many Adolescents Game a Lot Without Negative Effects on Their Wellbeing

Summary: 44% of adolescents who game heavily report a better sense of well-being than those who game less or don’t play video games at all.

Source: University of Oxford

A new study published by University of Oxford researchers in an open-access journal, JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, shows that although many school-age adolescents are spending considerable time gaming, it is not having a negative impact on their wellbeing.

The OxWell Student Survey is one of the largest school surveys of adolescent health and wellbeing in England. More than 12,000 secondary school-aged students (12-18 years) took part in the latest survey in June-July 2021 and provided information on how much they game.

Almost one-third (31.2%) of students that answered questions on their gaming reported spending at least 3.5 hours each day playing games on any electronic device (‘heavy’ gamers), but a fifth (21.8%) reported not engaging in any gaming.

The study identified different profiles of adolescents who game for longer periods of time based on their psychological wellbeing, how much time they spent playing games on different electronic devices, and how much control they have over their gaming behaviours.

They found that most of the ‘heavy’ gamers were experiencing no negative effects with regards to their well-being and 44% of ‘heavy’ gamers reported higher wellbeing than those who play games less or do not play them at all.

Lead author Dr Simona Skripkauskaite of Oxford’s Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, said: ‘Our findings suggest that there is a change in how adolescents are spending their free time with a substantial proportion choosing to spend most of this time playing video games. It is reassuring to see that, for most, this is not related to co-occurring wellbeing issues or mental ill-health.

“These findings suggest that, rather than worrying about the time spent playing video games, we should explore the opportunity of video gaming as a potential tool to find more affordable, creative and less stigmatising ways to reach and help adolescents experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties.’

This shows a person playing video games
They found that most of the ‘heavy’ gamers were experiencing no negative effects with regards to their well-being and 44% of ‘heavy’ gamers reported higher wellbeing than those who play games less or do not play them at all. Image is in the public domain

The study highlights, however, that this was not the case for everybody. 1 in 12 adolescents who were ‘heavy’ gamers did report a loss of control over gaming and wellbeing issues.

They were more likely to be female and report gaming on their mobile phones. They were also, however, more likely to report previous experiences of abuse or anxiety and aggressive behaviours, suggesting that those with traumatic experiences and mental health issues may turn to gaming as a coping mechanism.

Co-author Mina Fazel, Professor of Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, said: ‘Our findings are similar to those in adult gaming populations and highlight that the majority are not experiencing negative effects gaming.

“There is, however, an important subgroup of adolescents who are more likely to show signs of problematic use of gaming and lower mental health, and these findings can help us better identify these young people who are more likely to be females who are playing on their phones.’

Funding: This research was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration Oxford and Thames Valley at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the Westminster Foundation.

About this neurodevelopment and well-being research news

Author: Press Office
Source: University of Oxford
Contact: Press Office – University of Oxford
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Time Spent Gaming, Device Type, Addiction Scores, and Well-being of Adolescent English Gamers in the 2021 OxWell Survey: Latent Profile Analysis” by Simona Skripkauskaite et al. JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting


Time Spent Gaming, Device Type, Addiction Scores, and Well-being of Adolescent English Gamers in the 2021 OxWell Survey: Latent Profile Analysis

Background: The shift in the last decades to screen-based and increasingly web-based gaming activity has raised concerns about its impact on the development of children and adolescents. Despite decades of research into gaming and related psychosocial effects, the question remains how best to identify what degree or context of gaming may be a cause for concern.

Objective: This study aimed to classify adolescents into gamer profiles based on both gaming behaviors and well-being. Once we distinguished the different gamer profiles, we aimed to explore whether membership to a specific profile could be predicted based on a range of personal characteristics and experiences that could then help identify those at risk.

Methods: We explored gaming and well-being in an adolescent school population (aged 12-18 years) in England as part of the 2021 OxWell student survey. Self-report measures of time spent playing games on computers or consoles, time spent playing games on mobile phones, the Game Addiction Scale, and the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale were used to classify adolescent heavy gamers (playing games for at least 3.5 hours a day) using latent profile analysis. We used multinomial logistic regression analysis to predict the profile membership based on a range of personal characteristics and experiences.

Results: In total, 12,725 participants answered the OxWell gaming questions. Almost one-third (3970/12,725, 31.2%) indicated that they play games for at least 3.5 hours a day. The correlation between time spent playing video games overall and well-being was not significant (P=.41). The latent profile analysis distinguished 6 profiles of adolescent heavy gamers: adaptive computer gamers (1747/3970, 44%); casual computer gamers (873/3970, 22%); casual phone gamers (595/3970, 15%); unknown device gamers (476/3970, 12%); maladaptive computer gamers (238/3970, 6%); and maladaptive phone gamers (79/3970, 2%). In comparison with adaptive computer gamersmaladaptive phone gamers were mostly female (odds ratio [OR] 0.08, 95% CI 0.03-0.21) and were more likely to have experienced abuse or neglect (OR 3.18, 95% CI 1.34-7.55). Maladaptive computer gamers, who reported gaming both on their mobile phones and on the computer, were mostly male and more likely to report anxiety (OR 2.25, 95% CI 1.23-4.12), aggressive behavior (OR 2.83, 95% CI 1.65-4.88), and web-based gambling (OR 2.18, 95% CI 1.24-3.81).

Conclusions: A substantial number of adolescents are spending ≥3.5 hours gaming each day, with almost 1 in 10 (317/3970, 8%) reporting co-occurring gaming and well-being issues. Long hours gaming using mobile phones, particularly common in female gamers, may signal poorer functioning and indicate a need for additional support. Although increased time gaming might be changing how adolescents spend their free time and might thus have public health implications, it does not seem to relate to co-occurring well-being issues or mental ill-health for the majority of adolescent gamers.

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