Douglas Gentile’s Research on “Pathological Gaming”

A new study from Iowa State professor Dr. Douglas Gentile concludes that there are "hints of causality" between excessive gaming and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and social problems. You may recall that the ESA issued a statement on Friday calling the study deeply flawed.

The study, "Pathological video game use among youth 8 to 18: A national study," was conducted by Gentile, who is also the director of research for the National Institute on Media and the Family.

Gentile and his group of researchers surveyed 3,034 Singapore schoolchildren about their gaming habits, looking for children who were "pathological gamers." The groups were broken up into several groups: children who were pathological gamers throughout the study, children who became pathological or stopped being pathological during the study, and children who showed no signs of affect.

The survey questions were crafted using existing questions used to find pathological gambling, because gambling is the only medically recognized behavioral addiction.

Participants were asked 10 questions to determine if areas of their lives were being affected by excessive gaming. Did they skip doing homework? Did they fail at cutting back on gaming? Did they play games to escape problems or bad feelings? Has they ever stolen money so they could play games? Respondents had the option of answering "yes," "no," or "sometimes." "Sometimes" answers would count as half of a "yes." If a child has five or more "yes" answers, Gentile concluded that they were considered pathological gamers. The participants were followed over a two year period to gauge if there were any positive or negative changes in their gaming behavior.

"When you play the games, your biochemistry does change," Gentile said, "and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine. Your brain does release dopamine. That adrenaline rush you feel from playing violent games is really adrenaline. That’s epinephrine coursing through your veins. You also get other stress hormones—glocucorticoids and catecholamines like cortisol and testosterone. And over time, you get desensitized. You get a tolerance for them, and so you need more new games to get that excitement back again. And that looks an awful lot like a substance addiction."

Gentile also tried to tackle the ESA’s preemptive strike on his research:

"They don’t really provide any evidence in their statement of anything being seriously flawed," Gentile said. "That doesn’t mean all studies don’t have limitations; they certainly do. But just having limitations doesn’t necessarily invalidate any of the results from it, either."

If there is one positive take-away from this study, it’s that Gentile isn’t necessarily blaming games, he’s blaming impulse control disorders:

"I tend to believe–and there are people who disagree with me–is what we’re looking at here is an impulse control disorder," Gentile said. "You know you should do your homework, but you just can’t stop playing. You know you have to go to bed, but you have to get just one more level. What needs to be changed is not the game. What needs to change is players need to learn to put it back into balance."

You can read the 12-page study results here (PDF) and judge for yourselves.

Source: GameSpot

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  1. 0
    Avalongod says:

    I’ve seen all of the above.  And he is jumping the gun.  His study is riddled with flaws (poor measures, poor controls for other variables…the relations between pathological gaming and the mental health outcomes are all near zero in effect size, so he’s exaggerating them here.  His measure of pathological gaming is controversial at best, probably vastly overidentifying cases, which probably relates to why the effect sizes with the mental health outcomes were so low).

    There’s nothing in this study about "biochemical changes" so for Gentile to start talking about cocaine comparisons is utter nonsense, and vastly "jumping the gun."

    A very poor, deeply flawed study, matched only by unreasonable and irresponsible rhetoric on the part of Gentile.  Course we’ve seen this from him before.  Anyone else notice that most of the "bad news" on games comes from Iowa State and their close colleagues?


  2. 0
    Erik says:

    Adrenaline rush from playing violent games?  What the hell is he talking about?  If you are getting some sort of rush, of any kind, from playing violent games then you probably are some sort of spaz.  I can say that I can play nearly any violent game and stay baseline calm.  Separation between fantasy and reality and all of that.

    That isn’t to say that I’ve never gotten any sort of an adrenaline rush from games.  But that is from the difficulty rather than the violence level.  But that is neither here nor there in the point he is trying and failing to make.  But a game such as Tetris is much much more likely to send me into an elevated state than something like Call of Duty.

    Also his notation on tolerance to bodily chemicals is strange.  Supposedly you can form a tolerance to these chemicals, but then if you buy a new game you get the high again… from the same chemicals…. yeah.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  3. 0
    Shahab says:

    There is no way he can prove one way causality with that data. If anything I find it very likely that children with pre-existing conditions are more likely to engage in excessive game playing. Exactly like you would expect people with pre-existing mental conditions to be more at risk for substance abuse.

  4. 0
    Murdats says:

    every time I read one of these articles I just mentally substitute games for sports/football and hey, it still makes sense, but no one would dare say sports is evil

  5. 0
    gellymatos says:

    "As for ‘When you play the games, your biochemistry does change,’ Gentile said, ‘and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine.’ – the same can be said of any activity that increases happiness. Watching the sunset in Hawaii could also cause a similar effect. So should we ban holidays to Hawaii? I don’t think so."

    Whoa, let’s not jump the gun here. First, I doubt that the biochemisty change he’s talking about, harmful or not, is the same as one might get watching a sunset, whether in the type or the intensity. Second, he said nothing on banning anything. Seems to me some of us are getting worked up way to soon. I worry that us gamers may be jumping the gun on anyone who may show gaming in any sort of negative light. Has anyone here actually looked at his study? Or at ESA’s counter? Or at his own counter of the ESA?



    "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." -Albert Einstein

  6. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    Where are these "hints of causality" the article speaks of? All I see is talk of correlation. We already know there’s a correlation between excessive video game playing and depression. What we need to know is which one is the result of the other.

    As for "When you play the games, your biochemistry does change," Gentile said, "and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine." – the same can be said of any activity that increases happiness. Watching the sunset in Hawaii could also cause a similar effect. So should we ban holidays to Hawaii? I don’t think so.

    I’m sure depressed kids in Hawaii go out and look at the sunset. I’m sure there’s a correlation between excessive sunset-watching and depression. I just don’t know for sure if the sunset-watching is a cause of the depression, or an attempt to self-medicate. Though I have a pretty strong hunch that it’s the latter. I think the same is probably true for excessive game-playing.

  7. 0
    Sajomir says:

    He’s said absolutely nothing about emotional reactions to games. He’s talking about actual chemicals being produced in the brain that produce a "rush" or a "high." (you can argue that emotions are similar chemicals, but I don’t think many people equate an adrenaline rush with an emotion)

    In that sense, he’s just saying that people get pathological reactions to some other things for similar reasons. An adrenaline junkie who does stunts/skydiving/whatever does it for that rush, which comes from chemicals in his body. A drug addict does drugs because the chemicals in his body feel good. A gamer plays games they find exciting (could be violent fast-paced games, strategy games, or tricky puzzles) because that excitment can generate a rush, which is the same as the adrenaline seeker.

    Some people want to feel that rush all the time, at any cost, even if it becomes a hindrance to their daily lives. Hence, why people want to recognize THAT level of gaming as a behavioral disease.

  8. 0
    BrazBane says:

    Well duh kids want new games.  I love the crap out of the Uncharted games still wouldn’t want to play them and only them forever. 

    I’m also disturbed that this scholar is arguing that having an emotional reaction to a game is pathological.  Considering that games are a (still developing) storytelling medium, not having an emotional reaction is either a sign that the developers made some serious miscalculations with story or it’s simply not a story that appeals to you.

  9. 0
    Arell says:

    Are they saying that excessive gaming makes people depressed and anxious?  I think he got it backwards.  Depressed, anxious people are more likely to "pathologically game." 

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