November 19, 2013

Tune in, turn on, drop out?

From online site Games and Learning

A massive study of some 11,000 youngsters in Britain has found that playing video games, even as early as five years old, does not lead to later behavior problems.

This is real research, looking at changes over time in a large number of children and it does find that the associations between ‘screen time’ and later behaviour problems are weak. On the other hand, the research paper concludes

 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.

When you see “was not associated”, you need to look carefully: are they claiming evidence of absence or just weakness of evidence. Here are the estimates in a graphical form, comparing changes in a 10-point questionnaire about conduct.



The data largely rule out average differences as big as half a point, so this study does provide evidence there isn’t a big impact (in the UK). However, it’s pretty clear from the graph that the data don’t provide any real support for a difference between TV and videogames.  The estimates for TV are more precise, and for that reason the TV estimate is ‘statistically significant’ and the videogames one isn’t, but that’s not evidence of difference.

It’s also interesting  that there’s mild support in the data for ‘None’ being worse than a small amount. Here the precision is higher for the videogame estimate, because there are very few children who watch no TV (<2%).


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »


  • avatar
    megan pledger

    The kids with no tv watching/game watching are kids without tv or kids with health issues (e.g. eye problems) . That’s going to impact behaviour differently.

    As well as that, gender would play a big part – girls would be over represented playing webkinz, while boys would be over-represented playing skylanders. I would say those different “games” would have different impacts on future behaviour.

    4 years ago

    • avatar
      Thomas Lumley

      They did look at interactions with gender, because of the different types of games boys and girls play, but they said none of the interactions was significant.

      Now, that doesn’t mean there weren’t differences, but it does mean the basically null finding isn’t because substantial positive and negative effects cancelled each other out or something.

      4 years ago

      • avatar

        As said, the zero group will be, to be blunt, weird in the sense of being radically nonrepresentative. That might include medical problems, bizarre parents, or serious poverty.

        You’d expect this to be more of an issue WRT gaming than telly, but it won’t be zero.

        Further, the 3 hours plus group in both case are weird in a different way; if you’re left to play Steroid Cop 13 or gork out on the repeats for 3 hours plus, evidently someone can’t or won’t pay attention to you.

        The statistic is illuminating in two ways – at representative levels there is no effect, but the outliers tell us something about why they are outliers.

        4 years ago

        • avatar
          Thomas Lumley

          Actually, the zero gaming is quite a large chunk — remember, this is longitudinal data, so the gaming was measured quite a long time ago.

          Almost no-one is a teeveetotaller, though.

          4 years ago