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expert reaction to study reporting weak association between playing certain types of video games in childhood and risk of conduct disorder in teenage years

Use of video games and subsequent behavioural issues is the subject of paper published in the journal PLOS One, and the authors report a weak association between ‘shoot-em-up’ games and conduct disorder and no association between those games and depression.


Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“This paper uses the best available data to place the debate around video games and behavioural problems on a scientific, evidence-based footing.

“In doing so, they have busted some important myths. The overall amount of games played is not associated with adverse outcomes. The association between violent games and behavioural problems is weak, and only possibly causal.

“We know that all children play games. As a developmental paediatrician, the families that worry me are those that are unable to set boundaries about what games are appropriate, leading to exposure to 18 certificate games. However these are also families who struggle to set boundaries more generally. This is itself associated with later behavioural problems, and may be one of the residual confounders mentioned by the authors.

“Rather than scapegoat video games generally, it would be more sensible to focus on educating and supporting families to understand the certificate system, empowering and training parents to set boundaries, and getting retailers and publishers to show responsibility in marketing and selling violent games. That way, I may never again have to tell an outraged 8-year-old that he’s not allowed to pay Grand Theft Auto, while his mother looks on impotently.”


Dr Andrew Przybylski, Experimental Psychologist and Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“The study purports to test the highly controversial idea that some kinds of video game play may influence young people. Although the data was not collected with the aim of studying gaming per se, this paper is one of the strongest I have read on this subject. In particular there are three aspects of the study that are particularly strong that other future researchers would be wise to learn from.

“First, the sample is large and the data covers the young people between the ages of 8/9 to 15 years. By taking a six-year snapshot the researchers were able to account for children’s baseline levels of depression and conduct issues at the start of the study when examining the potential effects of different kinds of games. This step is almost never taken in video game research and deals with many of the problems that haunt research that claims to study game effects.

“Second, unlike nearly all previous studies on video games, these researchers conducted their analysis in a transparent way. The data are freely available to other researchers through the administrator of the original data collection. This is a rare step that rightly sets a high bar for future researchers on this topic.

“Third, the authors of the research keep the results they report in context. They acknowledge that the results they find, though statistically significant, are very weak. There were many instances in which game researchers go well beyond the data they report.

“This study sets a strong example for other researchers, policy makers, and journalists who cover the often sensational stories associated with video games. Instead of providing opinions, the study authors offer caution for future research and flag concrete ways to improve on their work. My hope is that this and other similar studies might motivate a wider awareness and call for robust and responsible research on this topic. ”


Prospective Investigation of Video Game Use in Children and Subsequent Conduct Disorder and Depression Using Data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children’ by Etchells et al. published in PLOS One on Thursday 28th January. 


Declared interests

Dr Max Davie: Dr Max Davie sits as the convenor of the Paediatric Mental Health Association.

Dr Andrew Przybylski: No conflicts of interest

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