Playing video games for less than an hour a day can lead to children becoming better adjusted, a British study has found.
The research, carried out by Oxford University, found that young people who indulged in a little video game-playing were associated with the highest levels of sociability and were most likely to say they were satisfied with their lives compared with those who had never played or who used video games for three hours or more.
Those who spent more than half their daily free time playing electronic games were not as well-adjusted.
But the findings showed that the influence of video games on youngsters – whether for good or bad – is very small when compared with more “enduring” factors, such as whether the child is from a functioning family, their school relationships, and whether they are materially deprived.
It also found no positive or negative effects for youngsters who played “moderately”, for between one and three hours a day.
Those who play for less than an hour a day – estimated to be less than one third of their daily free time – also appeared to have fewer friendship and emotional problems, and reported less hyperactivity than the other groups.
The research is thought to be the first to examine both the positive and negative effects of gaming using a representative sample of children and adolescents and involved nearly 5000 young people – half male and half female – drawn from a nationally representative study of UK households.
The participants, who were aged from 10 to 15, were asked how much time they typically spent on console-based or computer-based games such as the Nintendo Wii or Sony PlayStation.
However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children’s behavioural problems in the real world.
The same group also answered questions about how satisfied they were with their lives, their levels of hyperactivity and inattention, empathy, and how they got on with their peers.
“These results support recent laboratory-based experiments that have identified the downsides to playing electronic games,” said study author Dr Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute.
“However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children’s behavioural problems in the real world.
“Likewise, the small, positive effects we observed for low levels of play on electronic games do not support the idea that video games on their own can help children develop in an increasingly digital world.
“Some of the positive effects identified in past gaming research were mirrored in these data but the effects were quite small, suggesting that any benefits may be limited to a narrow range of action games.
“Further research needs to be carried out to look closely at the specific attributes of games that make them beneficial or harmful.
“It will also be important to identify how social environments such as family, peers and the community shape how gaming experiences influence young people.”