• Dr. Timothy Smith

Do Girls Get More Addicted to Video Games?

Girl Gamer

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In 2007, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers led by Allen Reis, MD followed their interest in studying whether men and women respond differently to video games. In their paper titled “Gender differences in the Mesocorticolimbic System during Computer Game-Play” published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the authors employed a basic territory acquisition video game to study the brains of eleven men and eleven women while the test subjects played the game. (cibsr.stanford.edu) The mesocorticolimbic system, also known as the reward pathway, plays a crucial role in reward-based learning, pleasure, and addiction. The authors found that for the territory acquisition game played by the test subjects both sexes learned the game equally, but the males acquired more territory and displayed higher stimulation of the reward pathway during the game, leading the authors to suggest that males may be more likely to become addicted to video games. However, such a broad conclusion does not take into account all of the different types of video games available today.

According to Statistica.com, females make up 46% of computer and video gamers in the United States in 2019, trending up one percentage point from last year and over nine percent since 2006. According to an analysis of smartphone app games by the USC researchers at the Viterbi School of Engineering, men and women prefer different types of games on average. The majority of players that make in-game purchases demonstrate gender preference depending on the kind of game. For example, about seventy percent of Candy Crush Saga (a puzzle game) and HayDay (a farming game) paying users are female, which indicates that females predominantly play these games. In contrast, the paying population of Clash of Clans and A Game of War, strategy games, consists of around seventy percent males (news.usc.edu).

Beyond gender differences in video game type preferences, more recent research implies that earlier findings did not tell the whole story about the difference in video game playing and addiction between the sexes. In a recent literature analysis of studies investigating female gaming titled “Female Gaming, Gaming Addiction, and the Role of Women Within Gaming Culture: A Narrative Literature Review,” in Frontiers in Psychiatry, the authors analyzed the limited research on females in gaming. The analysis noted that the World Health Organization recently added video game addiction (termed officially as Gaming Disorder) as an official listing in its International Classification of Diseases. WHO describes Gaming Disorder as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” (https://www.who.int/features/qa/gaming-disorder/en/)

Moreover, very preliminary research by researchers in China and the UK in an article titled “Females Are More Vulnerable to Internet Gaming Disorder Than Males: Evidence from Cortical Thickness Abnormalities,” reported in contrast to the earlier work published by the Stanford researchers that females appear more vulnerable than males to gaming addiction. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092549271830091X) The study used brain imaging and careful measurement of the brain structured to compare the brains of males and females with Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) and recreational game users (RGU) as controls. The study showed differences in brain structure between the IGDs and RGUs. More specifically, female brains of IGDs showed a more significant decrease in cortical thickness in the part of the brain associated with reward and addiction. The severity of decrease in cortical thickness also correlated with the reported degree of addiction. Cortical thickness represents a gross measure of brain health. The observations led the authors to conclude that females may be more susceptible to gaming addiction than males.

In the United States, 67% of the population plays video games, and 90% of those gamers play on their smartphones or tablets, according to a study by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. The World Health Organization has added Gaming Disorder as an official element in its list of diseases, and the American Psychiatric Association has listed gaming addiction officially under “Conditions for Further Study.” Initial research implied that males appeared more susceptible to video game addiction. However, over the years more females continue to join the gaming ranks. Females now make up 46% of gamers in the US, and very preliminary research has implied the females may be more susceptible to video game addiction than males. Such conclusions require much more research to verify the results and to take into account that females prefer different types of video games.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback here and in kindle format here.

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