College-aged individuals with Internet Gaming Disorder are more likely to make risky decisions, say the researchers behind a new joint-study between Yale and Beijing Normal Universities.
Using 102 male college students recruited from universities across Beijing, the researchers administered the Cup task, a gambling exercise in which participants could choose between a safe or risky option. Under the safe option, participants would gain or lose $100. With the risky option, participants faced higher potential returns and losses — anywhere from $200 to $400 — but at lower levels of probability. Gamers chose the risky option significantly more than non-gamers, suggesting a higher inclination to take risks despite the potential losses. The study was published in the journal Plos One on Jan. 23.
“Participants with IGD were more likely to choose the risky choice even when, statistically, it did not make sense to do so,” said Sarah Yip, co-author of the paper and postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Medicine. “This suggests a disregard for the negative consequences, and a similar pattern is seen in those with substance abuse disorders.”
The researchers recruited male students who had no previous history of substance abuse or mental disorders. Using the amount of time each subject spent gaming each week and the Chen Internet Addiction Scale, a self-reporting survey, the researchers divided participants into two groups, one consisting of 60 IGD subjects and the other of 42 healthy controls. Participants from both groups were then asked to participate in the Cups task. At the end of each Cups task, participants were given immediate feedback by the researchers, indicating how many points they had lost or gained.
“The results of the study are consistent with what we see clinically among individuals with IGD,” Yip said. “Here, the results by Dr. Zhang clearly demonstrate risky decision-making outside of the context of the internet.”
Zhang Jin Tao, co-author of the paper and professor at Beijing Normal University, said IGD is most common among high school and college students. He explained that of the 330 million plus people in China who played internet games, about half are adolescents between the ages of six and 25.
A separately published paper written by the same authors found that individuals with excessive internet gaming habits were unable to use feedback to optimize their decisions. According to this paper, this could underlie their poor decision-making.
“While both groups performed similarly when faced with a task that did not have feedback, those with Internet Gaming Disorder performed significantly worse when feedback was given,” said Yuan-Wei Yao, lead author of both papers. “They consistently chose more disadvantageous options.”
Many other studies have pointed to the negative side effects of IGD. Kimberley Young, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, noted that IGD could lead to job loss, failure in school and even divorce.
But not all of the effects identified with video games have been found to be adverse. According to a January 2014 article in American Psychologist that reviewed research in the field, playing video games may help to improve children’s social, health and learning capabilities. A 2013 statistical analysis of various independent studies found that shooter video games increased players’ abilities to visualize three dimensional objects.
“Not all of the side effects of Internet games are bad,” Young said. “They can actually teach leadership and strategy skills, while also helping others to improve their self-esteem or citizenship.”
Presently, IGD — which does not include general Internet use, online gambling and social media use — is not defined as an official disorder. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, released in May 2013, identifies it as a condition warranting additional clinical research before inclusion as a formal disorder.
The first International Congress on Internet Addiction Disorders was held in Milan, Italy in March 2014.