You have no doubt heard of Internet addiction and its related cousin, video game addiction. These are noxious labels that have little basis in solid research.
What is appropriate is to label some people’s specific activities online as problematic, whether it’s viewing porn, updating your Facebook profile, or playing video games. Professionals and researchers label this kind of behavior based upon the specific issue, for instance, “problematic video game play” (or PVGP). This is often not a time-based determinant (since time spent online doing X activity is completely relative to one’s environment, peer group, work needs, year in which measured, etc.).
Is problematic video game playing something related to poor time management skills (“Oops, I just lost track of time. I thought doing Y task in this game would take 10 minutes and it took 2 hours!”). Or does it have something to do with a person having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or characteristics of ADHD, as prior research has suggested?
Researchers (Tolchinsky & Jefferson, 2011) from Eastern Michigan University recently set to find out.
The best approach to understanding these problems is to ask the people who believe they may have a problem and use the same determinants used for other mental health disorders — is this causing you significant distress or dysfunction in your daily life. Problems that — if you looked at honestly — you’d have to admit they were pretty serious. We’re talking basic hygiene, sleep, school or work performance, and your relationships both with your friends and your significant other (if applicable).
Also, since this is a relatively new area of research where there’s a lot of contradictory definitions and data, wouldn’t it be wiser to look at these problems along a dimensional axis, rather than as black-or-white categories? So the researchers did just that, looking at a cumulative endorsement of symptoms by participants.
The researchers recruited a sample of 216 young adults at a Midwest university who played video games at least once a week. They asked them to fill out an online survey about their video game use, problematic video game play, a time structure questionnaire, and a test that measures hyperactivity and attention (key symptoms of ADHD).
The researchers had four hypotheses they were testing:
- Men were expected to have significantly higher problematic video game play (PVGP) scores than women (e.g., men would complain of greater problematic video game playing).
- Time management skills were expected to mediate the relationship between ADHD symptoms and problematic video game behaviors.
- Time management skills were expected to moderate the relationship between hours of play and problematic video game behaviors.
- ADHD symptoms were expected to moderate the relationship between frequency of play and PVGP.
The researchers found a significant gender difference — one they weren’t expecting — between men and women when it came to problematic video game playing:
These results suggest that at least for men, playing video games is associated with significantly fewer maladaptive behaviors if the video game player has strong time management skills and limits his hourly playing time to below a certain threshold.
For women, it appears that ADHD symptoms, and not time management skills, better predict patterns of problematic play.
These findings suggest that interventions to address problematic play may need to vary as a function of gender. Specifically, for men, time management training may help alleviate problematic play, but for women, reducing ADHD symptoms may be more effective.
The researchers also found that male gamers appeared to enjoy playing video games more than female gamers.
“Additionally, male respondents reported playing video games more frequently in episodes of longer durations each week than female gamers,” the researchers wrote. “Further, men showed significantly higher levels of PVGP behaviors than women.”
This research — although limited by its small sample size and lack of diversity — sheds a little more illumination on the area of people who are experiencing self-reported problems with video gaming use. It appears there may be a significant gender difference regarding the underlying issues for problematic video game play. For men, it appears the issues may be more related to time management skills. For women, it appears the issues may be more related to attention deficit and hyperactivity characteristics. This suggests two different treatment approaches, if a person were to present to a psychologist or therapist regarding problematic video game playing (or “gaming addiction,” as some might mistakenly call it).
Tolchinsky, A. & Jefferson, S.D. (2011). Problematic Video Game Play in a College Sample and Its Relationship to Time Management Skills and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptomology. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0315.