Children who played video games regularly at age 11 were less likely to develop depressive symptoms three years later, according to a new study led by a researcher at University College London.
Findings published in Psychological medicine showed that children who played video games most days had 24% fewer depressive symptoms three years later than children who played video games less than once a month.
This effect was only significant among children with low levels of physical activity, so the researchers say this could suggest that less active children might get more enjoyment and social interaction from video games.
While their study cannot confirm whether the relationship is causal, the researchers say there are some positive aspects of video games that could support mental health, such as problem solving and social, cooperative and participatory elements.
“While we cannot confirm whether video games actually improve mental health, it did not appear harmful in our study and may have some benefits,” said lead author PhD student Aaron Kandola. “Especially during the pandemic, video games have been an important social platform for young people.”
“Screens allow us to participate in a wide range of activities. Screen time guidelines and recommendations should be based on our understanding of how these different activities can influence mental health and whether that influence is significant. “
Kandola previously led studies that found that sedentary behavior (sitting still) appeared to increase the risk of depression and anxiety in adolescents.
To learn more about what drives that relationship, he and his colleagues decided to investigate screen time, as it is responsible for much of the sedentary behavior in adolescents. Other studies have found mixed results, with many not differentiating between different types of screen time, comparing between genders, or following such a large group of young people for several years.
The UCL research team, the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative sample of young people who have been involved in research since they were born in the UK in 2000-2002.
All study participants had answered questions about the time they spent on social media, playing video games, or using the Internet, at age 11, and they also answered questions about depressive symptoms, such as low mood, loss of pleasure, and lack of concentration. , at the age of. 14. The clinical questionnaire measures depressive symptoms and their severity on a spectrum, rather than providing a clinical diagnosis.
In the analysis, the research team took into account other factors that could have explained the results, such as socioeconomic status, levels of physical activity, reports of bullying, and prior emotional symptoms.
There may also be other explanations for the link between video games and depression, such as differences in social contact or parenting styles, for which the researchers had no data.
“We need to reduce the amount of time children, and adults, spend sitting down for their physical and mental health, but that doesn’t mean that screen use is inherently harmful.” Kandola adds.
Lead author Dr. Mats Hallgren of Karolinska has done other studies in adults and found that mentally active types of screen time, such as playing video games or working on a computer, might not affect the risk of depression in people. the same way that more passive forms of screen time, like watching social media, seem to do it.
“The relationship between screen time and mental health is complex, and we still need more research to help understand it,” Hallgren said.
However, any initiative to reduce screen time for young people must be “targeted and nuanced,” he said. “Our research points to the possible benefits of screen time; however, we should encourage young people to be physically active and to divide long periods of sitting with light physical activity. “
(SOURCE: University College London)
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