Interactive video games are more likely to harm social skills of young girls than thei male peers who play frequently, a study claims.
The popularity of interactive video games has sparked concern among parents, educators, and policymakers about how the games affect children and adolescents.
Most research on the effect of gaming on youth has focused on problematic gaming and negative effects like aggression, anxiety, and depression.
Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and University of California, Davis in the US looked at how playing video games affects the social skills of 6- to 12-year-olds.
It found that playing the games affected youth differently by age and gender, but that generally speaking, gaming was not associated with social development.
However, the researchers found that 10-year-old girls who played games frequently had less social competence than 12-year-olds than girls who played less frequently.
"Our study may mitigate some concerns about the adverse effects of gaming on children's development," said Beate Wold Hygen, postdoctoral fellow at the NTNU, who led the study published in the journal Child 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," said Hygen.
The researchers studied 873 Norwegian youth from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds every two years for six years when the children were ages 6 to 12.
The children and their parents reported how much time the youth spent playing video games—using tablets, PCs, game consoles, and phones.
The youth's teachers completed questionnaires on the children's and adolescents' social competence, including measures of cooperation, assertion, and self-control.
The youth told researchers how often they played games with their friends.
The study findings suggest that time boys spent gaming did not affect their social development.
However, girls who spent more time playing video games at age 10 developed weaker social skills two years later than girls who spent less time playing games.
Girl video gamers may be more isolated socially and have less opportunity to practice social skills with other girls, which may affect their later social competence.
"It might be that poor social competence drives youth's tendency to play video games for extensive periods of time," suggests Lars Wichstrom, professor of psychology at NTNU.
"That is, youth who struggle socially might be more inclined to play games to fulfill 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," said Wichstrom.