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Video Games and Their Link to Child Behavior

Haley Kolff

5 October 2009






Video Games, the Best Resource for a Natural Learning Process


Many people believe in the negative stigmas attached to the ideas of video games, such as all video games are negative and detrimental to a child health.  But video games are not completely harmful.  People have argued that video games lead to more aggressive behavior which leads to more crime.  But, according to the ESA, or Entertainment Software Association, “Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s.  During the same period of time, video games have steadily increased in popularity and use” (  This argues against the common idea that video games cause aggressive behavior in children.  Not only is less crime a result of video games, but the opportunity to learn different life skills is presented as children play video games.  Some such skills include perseverance, memory, quick thinking, and reasoned judgments.  Children are provided the opportunity to learn skills outside of the class room that would most likely not be taught in a school curriculum.  Some of these skills include hand-eye coordination and estimating skills.  Video games also provide children with a chance to learn about social structure, leadership and the idea of hierarchies.  In Denis Cummings article, Study Addresses Positive Aspects of Video Games, he exemplifies how games can have a positive effect on kids understanding of larger life skills.  For example, with an interview with MSNBC’s Kristin Kalning, she explains that “Video games can provide hands-on learning opportunities for kids that can be much more meaningful than reading a textbook.  For instance, you can play a mayor in “SimCity,” and get a close-up look at what it takes to build and maintain a community.” (  Many children have also seen to have benefitted in areas such as confidence building and within social interactions.  Gaming has seen to have helped kids who have issues with self-esteem by implementing a sense of participation and sometimes cooperation.  This also helps to explain the way that children benefit in social situations.  According to Amanda Lenhart’s Presentation: Teens, Video Games and Civics: What the Research is Telling Us, 76% play games with others at least some of the time, 65% play with other people in the room with them, 27% play with others through the Internet.  (  These experiences help them learn social behaviors and interactions with other children.  Outcasts, who may be a good gamer, may feel a sense of placement and social standing in the gaming world, therefore helping them in the outside social community.  One of the major arguments supported by The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s article: Teens, Video Games and Civics, Teens interact with others outside of their circle by posting on websites and gaming blogs.  Not only do teens play with their friends, but with other people they do not know on the internet.  Through these online games, they are learning how to interact with other people.  (  The ECA (Entertainers Consumers Association) is one of those groups who support the idea of video games providing a positive impact on individuals.  They approach the argument by stating the many ways that video games are safe for children.  The ECA ensures this safety and screening through the use of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).  The ESRB “was established by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in 1994 to educate parents about game content. The voluntary ESRB system provides consumers with information about the age appropriateness and specific content of entertainment software.” (  They also state that aggressive behaviors can be seen as a result of movies and shows as much as it could with video games.






The Cheats and Pass-codes to Deteriorating a Child’s Health:  How Video Games Really Effect Children’s Health


How Have Video Games Grown and Spread in the Past Few Years?


Before we investigate the effect of video games on children’s health, we must look at some background statistics of video games.  These are some of the more important statistics when looking at the amount of children who are involved in playing with video games. (GrabStats)


·         It is predicted that by 2012, 90 million households will use a next-generation video game console

(These houses x 10 million)


·         65% of American households play computer or video games.

·         97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games

·         86% of teens play on a console like the Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii

·         73% play games on a desktop or a laptop computer

·         60% use a portable gaming device like a Sony PlayStation Portable, a Nintendo DS, or a Game Boy

·         48% use a cell phone or handheld organizer to play games

·         The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old (most likely due to age restrictions put on specific games, and games bought by parents for their children)

·         63% of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.

·         By 2009, it is projected that the industry will support over a quarter of a million American jobs.

·         Computer and video game companies posted records sales in 2007. The industry sold 267.8 million units, leading to an astounding $9.5 billion in revenue.

·         80% of parents place time limits on video game playing

·          The average salary for direct employees is $92,300, resulting in total national compensation of $2.2 billion

·         On average, nine games were sold every second of every day of 2007

·         Halo 3, the best-selling title of 2007, took in more revenue in its first day of sales than the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie ("Spider-Man 3") and the final "Harry Potter" book's first day sales





Is Obesity Linked with Time Spent Playing Video Games?


Many researchers have done studies to show the link between video games and obesity.  In Elizabeth Vandewater’s study, Linking Obesity and Activity Level with Children’s Television and Video Game Use, she discusses the major hypothesized mechanisms for this relationship between obesity and video game use. 

The first hypothesis is the “couch potato” hypothesis.  This is the most popular hypothesis which supports the theory that “time spent with television and video games is thought to be negatively related to time spent in more energy expending activities and positively related to time spent in sedentary activities” (72, 2004).  This just means that children are more inclined to stay on the couch and play a video game, rather than play a game outside that would require more physical activity, thus leading to a healthier lifestyle.

 Another hypothesis, with a less direct effect, is the idea that television viewing and playing video games promote a higher calorie intake.  Whether it is advertisements on the television or a full bag of snacks on the couch next to the child, an increase in calorie intake has been seen with an increase in video game use and time watching television.

The main goal of her study was to examine the relationship between children’s media use and physical activities to their weight status.  Below is a summary of her findings:


Our results indicate that video game use, which has been much less studied, is strongly related to children’s weight status. There were both linear and curvilinear relationships between children’s weight status and their video game use. Moreover, the standardized coefficients for the linear and curvilinear effects of video game play, as well as the curvilinear age and gender by video game play interaction terms, were by far the largest in the overall regression model. The curvilinear relationship indicated that children with higher weight status spent moderate amounts of time playing electronic games, relative to other children in the sample, while children with lower weight status spent either little or a lot of time playing  electronic games. Interaction analyses indicated that this was true for children under age 8, but not for children ages 9–12. This may be particularly important because it seems likely that the vast majority of American children, if they play electronic games at all, will play some moderate amount of games. Thus, it may be that video game use, in particular, holds some place in the story behind the increase in the prevalence of pediatric obesity in the United States—especially among very young children.

Elizabeth Vandewater 2004


Another study that links the use of video games to childhood obesity is Nicholas Stettler’s study, Electronic Games and Environmental Factors Associated with Childhood Obesity in Switzerland.  The goal of the study was to determine if environmental factors and television and video games were linked to the obesity trend in Switzerland.  He performed a cross sectional study of children (grades one to three) in four different areas of Switzerland.  Obesity was measured by the children’s BMI, and activity level was measured on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the estimation of their teacher.  In the end, the study found that the use of electronic games was significantly associated with obesity, independently of confounding factors. The chart below shows the correlation of hours of video games played and television watched to the prevalence of obesity.

(Image from Electronic Games and Environmental Factors Associated with Childhood Obesity in Switzerland: Nicolas Stettler (2004), Obesity Research Journal. OBESITY RESEARCH Vol. 12 No. 6 June 2004)


The chart shows that the more amount that children spend on electronic games, the higher the prevalence of obesity.  Not only did video games have an effect on a child’s weight, but according to the chart, the amount of television that children watch had a high correlation as well.

        In Steve Dorman’s article, Video and computer games: Effect on children and implications for health education, he brings about the crucial topic of cardiovascular issues caused by obesity, which are linked to the amount of time playing video games.  When the metabolic and cardiovascular responses (of people 16-25) to video games were examined, they showed they had an increased heart rate from the anxiety that is associated with playing these video games.  Also, it has been shown that kids who spend more time in front of their television playing video games are more likely to show signs of obesity.  This leads to an increase in the risk of these cardiovascular problems.  In his article, he also explains how, over the past few years, video game induced seizures have been seen in children throughout the world (2/3 of these kids had never previously experienced a seizure before). (Dorman (1997), 133)

        Overall, all of these studies show that obesity is directly correlated with the amount of time spent on playing video games and/or watching television.



Do Video Games Promote Aggressive or Poor Behavior?


One of the most important and popular ideas that is linked with the negative effect of video games on health is the theory that they lead to aggressive behavior in children.  According to Steven Dorman, and the General Arousal Theory, “children when aroused most likely will behave in a manner most recently observed…hence, arousing nature of video games may increase aggressiveness regardless of the game content.”  He also explains that video games give children the opportunity to practice such aggressive behavior and be rewarded with successful aggression from the video game that they are playing.  He found that studies show that children do not express aggression while playing the video game as much as their behavior post-video game.  “Children who played the karate video game showed more aggressive behavior.  Playing a video game seems to lead children to exhibit behaviors similar to those portrayed in the game including aggressive behaviors.”  In other words, he is saying that children tend to model what they experience and observe in video games.  More than 89% of video games on the shelves have some type of violent content as a part of the game (half of these being violence towards other characters within the game).  The higher the prevalence of violent content in video games, the higher the prevalence of violent behavior by children after playing these video games (or in real situations).  “Playing violent games increases aggressive behaviors, increases aggressive cognitions, increases aggressive emotions, increases physiological arousal, and decreases prosocial behaviors” (Gentile (2004), 7).  Although video games promote the increase in aggressive behavior, certain methods have been taken to moderate the types of games that children are able to play.  Games are now sent through a screening system in order to advocate parents on the content and appropriateness of the games.  Ratings restrict some kids for playing games; E- is for everyone, t-for teen, etc.  These ratings don’t always work, because children always have a means of getting a hold of the games that are “restricted” according to their age and the content of the game.  Higher restrictions are obviously ones that are not appropriate for younger children because of violence and sexual behaviors seen and portrayed in the game.  Children who get a hold of games that have these restrictions are exposed to these violent behaviors and therefore are more prone to showing that type of behavior themselves.


Not only have video games seen to promote aggressive behavior, but just poor behavior in general.  This includes the negative correlation between video game use and grades.  A number of studies have shown a negative association between the amounts of time spent playing a video game and school performance for children, adolescents, and college students.  According to Douglas Gentile’s article, The effects of violent game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance, “the ‘displacement hypothesis’ suggests that electronic media can influence learning and social behavior by taking the place of activities such as reading, family interaction, and social play with peers amount of play could affect grades negatively by displacing time spent in other educational and social activities.” (Gentile (2004), 6)  In other words, the main reason for bad grades is that it displaces time that could be spent on studying and doing work. 


        Many studies have been done to prove that video games are detrimental to a child’s overall health.  Therefore, we should take more action to either ban violent games or moderate the amount of violence in games.  Also, parents should be more proactive on monitoring their child’s video game use and keeping track of their behavior.  Children should have a balance between physical activities and mental activities to keep both the body and mind in good condition.




















Works Cited



For introduction:







Body of Paper:


Dorman, Steve M.  “Video and Computer Games:  Effect on Children and Implication for Health Education”.  The Journal of School Health Volume 67(Number 4) (1997) 133-138


Gentile, Douglas A.  “The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits On Adolescent Hostility, Aggressive Behaviors, and School Performance.” Journal of Adolescence 27 (2004) 5-22


Stettler, Nicholas. “OBESITY RESEARCH”.  Obesity Research Journal 12 (June 2004) 896-903.


Vandewater, Elizabeth A. “Linking Obesity and Activity Level with Children’s Television and Video Game Use” Journal of Adolescence 27 (2004) 71–85





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