Is playing Call of Duty a healthier pastime than watching The Wiggles? A new UK study has found video games have no measurable impact on young children's behaviour. Watching too much television meanwhile, can lead to conduct problems further down the road.
Gaming picture from Shutterstock
Researchers from the UK Medical Research Council measured the TV and gaming habits of 11,014 five year-olds for a period of two years. Mothers were asked to log their children's typical daily television/video/DVD viewing and computer/video game playing via a questionnaire.
The study found that children who were allowed to watch more than three hours of television per day showed a small increase in "conduct problems" by the time they reached seven. However, the time spent playing computer and video games had no impact on behaviour:
Watching TV for 3 h or more at 5 years predicted a 0.13 point increase (95% CI 0.03 to 0.24) in conduct problems by 7 years, compared with watching for under an hour, but playing electronic games was not associated with conduct problems.
Interestingly, the report also found no evidence of gender differences in the effect of screen time. The report also notes that no associations were found between TV/games and emotional symptoms, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour.
It's worth noting that five year-olds tend to play age-appropriate games which do not contain excessive violence or aggression. On the other hand, most parents are less stringent when it comes to checking the suitability of video games, so there's a high chance that many of the children in the study were in fact playing mature titles.
Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study [Archives of Disease in Childhood]