Researchers in Norway conducted a longitudinal study to find out how playing video games affects the social skills of 6 to 12-year-old boys and girls. The surprising result?
Ten-year-old girls who played games frequently had less social competence by the time they reached the age of 12 compared to 12-year-old girls who didn’t play games as frequently. The same thing couldn’t be said for boys, whose social development didn’t seem impacted by gaming.
“There is an association between much gaming and poor social skills,” says Beate Wold Hygen, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and NTNU Social Research, and the study’s lead author. She explained in an interview with Parentology, “At only one point in time was there evidence that more time spent gaming forecasted poorer social competence—and for girls only.”
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that gaming caused the lack of social skills. Rather, Hygen said, “For the most part, [we think] this is due to those with poorer social competence choosing to game more than those with better social skills.”
The research was conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NTNU Social Research, the University of California, Davis, and St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway. The findings were then published in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.
“Our study may mitigate some concerns about the adverse effects of gaming on children’s development. It might not be gaming itself that warrants our attention, but the reasons some children and adolescents spend a lot of their spare time playing the games,” Hygen commented in the press release.
A total of 873 Norwegian youth were studied. They were a diverse group from different socioeconomic backgrounds and included both genders. The scientists examined the prospective relationship between time spent gaming and social competence amongst Norwegian 6-year-olds. The children were then followed up at ages 8, 10, and 12. The scientists controlled for socioeconomic status, body mass index, and time spent gaming together with friends.
When the children were 6 and 8, their parents reported on the time they spent playing video games. When the children were older, they did the reporting on their gaming habits themselves. The kids’ teachers were also consulted on the youths’ social interactions, including the degree of cooperation, assertion, and self-control.
The study found that playing the games affected youth differently by age and gender. While playing games did not affect the boys’ social development, girls who spent more time playing video games at age 10 had weaker social skills two years later than other 12-year-old girls who spent less time playing games.
“Extensive gaming might indicate that the child has difficulties interacting with other children off-line,” says Hygen.
Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at NTNU who co-authored the study, thinks it might be that lack of social competence that drives some children to spend too much time playing video games.
“That is, youth who struggle socially might be more inclined to play games to fulfil their need to belong and their desire for mastery because gaming is easily accessible and may be less complicated for them than face-to-face interactions,” suggests Wichstrøm.
“We were surprised that gaming only seemed to affect the social development of girls and not boys,” Hygen said.
Why Gaming Affects Girls’ More
The scientists have an interesting theory as to why spending more time gaming seems to have a detrimental effect on girls rather than boys.
Research has shown that girls tend to play in smaller groups than do boys, and their relationships are often more intimate while boys tend to play in larger groups.
“Thus, it might be that girls who game lose out on something very influential—more intimate interaction with a close friend or a few friends. Being in large groups may be less influential in shaping social competence, so time spent gaming could thus have less effect on this aspect of their development,” write the authors.