Gaming and Children's Psycho-Social Development

Project Lead Category Project status
Adam Lobel Gaming Completed

Despite widespread claims that video gaming is harmful for children's social and emotional development, hardly any research has tracked children over time to verify these claims. Moreover, such claims run contrary to the importance which psychologists have given to play. This project aimed to address these matters.

Project team


Video games have become an inevitable facet of children’s lives with approximately 97% playing at least one hour per day (Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008). In contrast to tradition forms of play, considered by leading psychologists as having important socio-emotional benefits, limited research has investigated how video game playing can benefit children’s emotion regulation skills (Hromek & Roffey, 2009). Instead, the preponderance of research on gaming’s influence on emotion regulation skills has focused on whether playing violent video games promotes aggressive thinking and behavior. For example, a recent meta-analysis identified 101 studies that investigated the effects of playing (violent) video games on children’s and adolescents’ psychosocial health (Ferguson, 2015); of these, fewer than 10 assessed the relation between gaming and children’s peer relationships (e.g. Przybylski, 2014). Furthermore, despite researchers arguing that children may be more prone to the long-term effects of gaming than adults (Bushman & Huesmann, 2006), and despite the trend of children picking up video games at an increasingly younger age (Lenhart et al., 2008), these studies have tended to recruit predominantly adolescent samples. While approximately 60 studies included children 12 years or younger, the mean age in nearly 40 of these samples was 13 or older. As a result, pre-adolescent children are underrepresented in gaming research. Given these and other methodological shortcomings, this project was designed to address the lack of research where (a) gaming’s role in normative development (b) among pre-adolescent children is studied (c) longitudinally and (d) using multiple reporters. These studies also (e) explored the potential bidirectionality between gaming behaviors and psychosocial health and (f) simultaneously investigated the influences of cooperative and competitive gaming. Our outcomes indicated that among children, the risks of gaming are likely low, whereas there may be psychosocial benefits, particularly when gaming is performed with peers.


Children who regularly game


Competitive gaming among boys in our sample


Competitive gaming among girls in our sample


Video games have long been a source of social concern, and such concern seem magnified when considering gaming’s presumed negative influence on children. However, put into historical perspective, such presumptions may be a product of how foreign video gaming seems to members of the older generation. That is, like film and television before it, gaming may in large part evoke mass skepticism largely because it is a new form of popular media. As Przybylski’s research demonstrates, negative attitudes towards video games may be linked to one’s level of experience with video games (2013). Given this perspective and these findings, the social concern surrounding video games may therefore reflect a “moral panic” (Ferguson, 2008; 2011) more than the objective presence of danger. 

This conclusion seems warranted given the findings of this project. Gaming was ubiquitous among children in these studies, and gaming frequency was associated with little to no detrimental outcomes. Instead, concern regarding gaming’s negative influence may be warranted in cases where children are given free rein to play as often and as aggressively as they want. Such children may be at risk for playing games that are inappropriate for their developmental stage. These studies therefore seem to indicate that unless left greatly unfettered, gaming is a healthy fit in children’s normative psychosocial development.


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Project team

Adam Lobel title=
Adam Lobel

User Research Analyst at Ubisoft Montréal. My favorite games tell emotionally rich stories and challenge me to think differently


User Research Analyst


E-mail Adam

Isabela Granic title=
Isabela Granic
Director of GEMH Lab

Professor and Chair of the Developmental Psychopathology department in the Behavioural Science Institute; writer; voracious podcast consumer; mother of two upstanding little gamers


Professor at McMaster's University & Co-founder of PlayNice Interactive


E-mail Isabela

Rutger Engels title=
Rutger Engels


CEO at Trimbos Institute / Professor Developmental Psychopathology Utrecht University


E-mail Rutger

William Burk title=
William Burk


Assistant Professor


E-mail William

Lisanne Stone title=
Lisanne Stone


Senior Researcher at Centre for Anxiety Disorders


E-mail Lisanne