Why playing video games impacts girls’ social development differently to boys, according to NTNU

An image to illustrate boys playing video games, which has been the subject of the study on whether it affects their social development.
© iStock/scyther5

A new study has assessed whether playing video games impacts the social development of six to twelve year olds.

The study has found that while interactive video games are not associated with social development in boys of this age group, it has found a lower social competence in some ten year old girls who game more frequently.

It has been conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NTNU Social Research, the University of California, Davis, and St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway, and published in Child Development.

Gaming and child development

The study found that:

  • There was no impact on boys’ social development due to time spent gaming;
  • Girls who have increased time spent gaming at age 10 developed weaker social skills two years later compared to girls who spent less time playing games;
  • Gaming may affect girls’ later social competence because they may be more isolated socially and have less opportunity to practice social skills with other girls; and
  • Children who struggled socially at ages 8 and 10 were more likely to spend more time playing video games at later, at ages 10 and 12.

Beate Wold Hygen, postdoctoral fellow at the NTNU and NTNU Social Research, who led the study, explained: “Our study may mitigate some concerns about the adverse effects of gaming on children’s 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.”

The factors influencing the link between video games and social competence

According to the Society for Research in Child Development, “The researchers took into consideration several factors:

  • Gender, because boys tend to spend more time gaming than girls and may be more likely to display lower levels of social competence;
  • Socioeconomic status, because youth from less advantaged families may be at greater risk of problems that influence social competence;
  • Body-mass index (BMI), because higher BMI in girls is associated with more gaming and youth with higher BMIs tend to have more problems with social competence; and
  • Amount of time youth spent gaming with friends, since those who play games with friends have more opportunities to practice social skills than youth who play alone or online with strangers.
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