Gaming and social competence: Young girls who play video games have poorer social skills compared to boys
10/21/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

The popularity of video games has raised questions among parents, educators, and policymakers on the potential negative effects of playing video games. Plenty of studies have surfaced since then, each focusing on effects like aggression and anxiety. While playing video games may not necessarily hinder a child's social growth, new evidence suggests that behavioral effects of frequent gaming may only manifest in pre-teen girls.

A study published in Child Development, a journal of the Society of Research in Child Development, has found that 10-year-old girls who spent more time gaming showed poorer social skills at age 12 than those who spent less time playing video games.

“Our study may mitigate some concerns about the adverse effects of gaming on children’s development,” says lead study author Beate Hygen. “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.”

“Poorer social skills predict future gaming”

In this longitudinal study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in collaboration with the University of California, studied 873 Norwegian school children for six years, starting when they were 6 years old.

To measure the amount of time spent playing video games, the researchers used a parent-administered interview for children aged 6 to 8. The researchers interviewed the children when they were aged 9 to 12.

Teachers were asked to evaluate the children's social competence using Gresham and Elliot's Social Skills Improvement System. Their analysis was based on their ability to follow directions, how they controlled their behavior, and how they exhibited confidence in social settings.


The team then accounted for other factors that could possibly influence a child's social skills, namely their socioeconomic status and body mass index (BMI). Less advantaged families are at greater risk of many problems (e.g., marital conflicts and poor family dynamics) that are known to affect children's social competence. Additionally, high BMI in girls has been associated with more gaming time and is negatively associated with social competence.

The results show that time spent playing video games has no association with the social development of boys. However, children who struggled in social settings at ages 8 to 10 were more likely to devote more time to video games two years later. Moreover, girls who play video games may be more isolated socially and could affect future social development.

The study suggests that the gender gap may play a role in the differences found in the results. Girls tend to play in smaller groups. On the other hand, boys prefer playing in much larger groups. The team believes that girls who play games might lose out on influential interactions between close friends compared to being in a large group of friends, thus leading to stunted social development.

Boys were also found to spend substantially more time playing video games compared to girls. This suggests that video games are more integrated into boys' socialization. The researchers believe that because gaming is less integrated into the socialization of girls, other girls may find it difficult to accept girls who game a lot.

“Girls who game may not only have fewer in-person girls to game with, but also to a greater extent be excluded from the nongaming social interactions with same-aged girls and the socialization that follows,” Hygen said in a statement. “Poorer social skills predict future gaming, but time spent gaming in itself has no impact on social development - at least for boys.”

The team emphasized that their observations should not be over-generalized and that there is a need for further research on other behavioral and psychological aspects in relation to gaming. In addition, they caution that the youth involved in the study provided a limited amount of gaming, which could be inaccurate given the difficulty in estimating game time. (Related: Can positive video games make us better people?)

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