Playing video games does not affect how young boys are able to socialize and make friends with other children, according to a new study.
Researchers from Norway examined how the gaming habits of children can affect their social interactions with others. They spent six years monitoring the behavior of nearly 900 kids between the ages of 6 and 12.
The study showed that children who were comfortable interacting and making friends with other kids by the age of 8 to 10 were less inclined to play video games by the time they reach the ages of 10 to 12.
Boys of that age group in particular did not experience any changes in their competence and social skills at any point of the study, despite spending a lot of time gaming.
Meanwhile, the more time 10-year-old girls spent playing video games, the harder it is for them to socialize with other children by the time they become 12-year-olds.
The findings came as a surprise to the researchers, who said they did not expect getting such results.
How Gaming Affects Socialization Among Children
Beate Hygen, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and lead author of the study, discussed how gaming affects young girls and boys differently. She believes there are several possible reasons as to why this happens.
"Girls tend to play in smaller groups than do boys, and their relationships are often more intimate," Hygen said. This suggests that girls who play video games tend to lose out on potential social intimacy more compared to boys.
The researcher noted how time spent gaming appears to carry less a developmental "cost" for young boys compared to their female counterparts.
Hygen also looked at how boys tend to spend much of their time playing video games compared to girls. She noted how gaming is integrated in the play culture of young boys and that it might actually even be helping them socialize with other kids.
On the other hand, girls may not be as accepting of other girls who play video games a lot, according to Hygen. This could mean that girls only have a few female friends to game with or that they are shunned by their peers when they try to interact with others in a non-gaming environment.
Other Possible Explanations
Dr. Anne Glowinski, a child psychiatry professor at Washington University, said the results could also be because girls who have difficulties socializing are just more interested in playing video games than interacting with their peers in the first place.
Glowinski, who was not involved in the Norwegian-led research, pointed out how hard it is to prove causation in such research. However, she said it is interesting to see the different impacts of gaming in girls.
She explained that generally, girls tend to have different kinds of conversations with one another compared to boys. These conversations often focus on their feelings and involve more emotional content.
It is possible that playing video games deprive young girls of a certain kind of development linked with such interactions, which according to Glowinski, is something that young boys perhaps would not mind losing out on much.
While the findings suggest that girls experience more negative outcomes associated with playing video games than boys, it might not be enough to say that gaming causes poor social skills in children.
Glowinski cautioned people from assuming that the non-gaming world provides an ideal environment for social development.
She recognized that seeing children watching too much TV or using smartphones or video games may be unappealing. However, she said some aspects of gaming might also be socially engaging as well.
The results of the Norwegian study are featured in the journal Child Development.