By Randy Dotinga
FRIDAY, April 3, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A small study offers a mixed view on whether video games may make kids more aggressive.
Those children who spend more time playing games might be slightly likelier to be hyperactive and to get into fights. But violent video games seem to have no effect on behavior, according to British researchers.
The researchers also said they discovered that kids who played video games for less than an hour a day were more likely to be less aggressive and rated as better-behaved by their teachers.
And even if spending a lot of time playing video games every day may alter the way kids act in everyday life, "all observed behaviors were very small in magnitude, suggesting only a minor relationship at best and that games do not have as large an impact as some parents and practitioners worry," said study author Andrew Przybylski. He is an experimental psychologist at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University.
In the study, researchers looked at 217 teens, 110 males and 107 females, and examined both their video game-playing habits and their personalities as judged by their teachers.
A bit more than half of the girls had never played video games, compared to just 13 percent of the boys. Sixteen percent (18) of the boys played video games more than three hours a day, compared to 3 percent (4) of the girls.
The researchers found that the 22 kids who played video games the most each day were the likeliest to have behavioral problems, exhibit hyperactivity and have trouble academically, although the effects were "quite small in magnitude," Przybylski said. He added that there's no way to know whether kids are drawn to video games because of their personalities, or whether video games alter their personalities.
The kinds of video games that the kids played appeared to have no effect after the researchers adjusted their statistics so factors such as gender wouldn't have an effect.
And there was even an unexpected benefit to playing for short amounts of time each day, the study authors found.
"Individuals who regularly played less than an hour a day of any type of game were actually less likely than their non-playing peers to fight with or bully peers and were rated as better behaved by their teachers," said study co-author Allison Fine Mishkin, a graduate student at Oxford Internet Institute. "This suggests that, in small doses, video games are a valuable and valid form of play which we do not need to fear."
Christopher Ferguson, chair of the psychology department at Stetson University in Florida and a leading critic of studies linking violence to movies and video games, praised the study. In this research area, "it is often difficult to discern good science from overstated panic," he said.
The new study is "in many ways an improvement over what has come before," he added, especially since it relies on perceptions from teachers about the behavior of kids, not the self-descriptions of the kids themselves.
Craig Anderson, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University, has a different view. He said the study doesn't say much that's new, and he believes that violent video games have been proven to increase aggressive behavior and thinking.
Dr. Claire McCarthy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, wouldn't go so far as to criticize video games. Considering the lack of definitive research, "we need to be a little bit careful when it comes to vilifying video games," she said. "And we are unlikely to ever know all the answers about the true effects of video games," she added.
"All we can really do is use our common sense, and make sure that kids get plenty of time away from screens, too," McCarthy said. "Playing video games doesn't usually help kids learn the behavioral skills they need to succeed. They still need to get shut off sometimes."
The study was published online recently in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.