A new study finds “Internet Gaming Disorder” is not a sign of kids’ mental health problems

A new study from Norway finds no links between Internet Gaming Disorder and more serious psychological problems among young people.

A new study into Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has revealed “no associations between IGD symptoms and psychopathology.” The only link they did find was that 10 – 12 year olds who showed symptoms actually had less anxiety, rather than more, several years later.

Some recent studies have found that young people who display symptoms of Internet Gaming Disorder also show more symptoms of common psychiatric disorders.

And there are several legitimate worries associated with IGD.

If young people spend too much time gaming, they will have fewer opportunities for social interactions with peers.

Alos some research has linked extensive gaming to increased loneliness and physical inactivity.

Both of these are risk factors for depression.

Furthermore, because gaming provides rapid stimuli, the absence of such stimuli in daily life might lead to restlessness or hyperactivity.

Finally, violence.

As the study notes, the three most popular games in the United States in 2019 all contain violence.

Those games were Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Fortnite. But the actual research on the link between game violence and real violence shows mixed results.

Some meta‐analyses indicate that violent games do increase aggressive behavior, with others finding no evidence for this association.

The present study

Considering these contradictory results, a group of Norwegian researchers decided to investigate further. 

Their new study was recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. It involved 702 Norwegian children between the ages of 10 – 14.

The participants underwent several assessments.

One was the Internet Gaming Disorder Interview (IGDI).

This tool looks for symptoms such as a preoccupation with games and social withdrawal.

It also looks into excessive use of games, escapism, and the use of games to relieve negative mood.

They subjects also completed the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment (CAPA), which measures disorders such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Results: no links between Internet Gaming Disorder and psychiatric problems

The researchers found no associations between Internet Gaming Disorder symptoms and psychiatric disorders.

In fact, kids with IGD symptoms at ages 10 and 12 actually had *less* anxiety two years later.

“We looked at anxiety, depression, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder.

But children who had more symptoms of these mental disorders were not more susceptible to gaming addiction,” said lead author Beate Wold Hygen.

“When psychiatric difficulties and IGD occur at the same time, which they do, they must be explained by other shared underlying factors,” said co-author Lars Wichstrøm.

As the authors conclude, “no support emerged for concurrent or prospective relations between IGD and psychiatric symptoms, except in one case: increased IGD symptoms forecasted reduction in anxiety symptoms.”

Furthermore, they say, “heavy involvement in gaming during childhood, even to the extent of acquiring proposed symptoms of Internet gaming disorder, therefore does not seem to pose a threat toward developing increased mental health problems.”

The overlooked good side of gaming

Due to the (limited) evidence linking gaming with the problems mentioned above, the authors write, “the possibility that heavy involvement in gaming may actually enhance mental health, perhaps by reducing psychiatric symptoms, should not be overlooked.

For example, they point out that games often involve children playing with other children.

And this can help fulfill the need to have positive social relationships and reduce loneliness.

Likewise, they write, online relationships often convert to offline relationships.

Along these lines, a 2013 study found that gaming actually reduces symptoms of depression.

While there are theoretical and empirical grounds for concern about the adverse effects of pathological gaming on children’s mental health,” they write, “the possibility also exists that gaming can exert positive effects on children’s well‐being.

Study: The co‐occurrence between symptoms of internet gaming disorder and psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence: prospective relations or common causes?
Authors: Beate Wold Hygen et al. 
Published in: The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13289
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