Study Finds “No Evidence” Supporting Gaming Disorder, Underlying Factors Are The Bigger Issue

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A study by Oxford University has found no evidence to support the classification of “gaming disorder”.

The World Health Organization officially declared “gaming disorder” as a disease in May 2019. The organization has until 2022 to introduce new preventative measures and treatments. Even prior to its official classification, numerous psychologists and scholars condemned the decision.

Investigating the Motivational and Psychosocial Dynamics of Dysregulated Gaming: Evidence From a Preregistered Cohort Study conducted by Professor Andrew K. Przybylski (Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute) and Dr. Netta Weinstein (Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University), had the following abstract and closing remarks:

“The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and World Health Organization (WHO) have called for research investigating the clinical relevance of dysregulated video-game play. A growing number of exploratory studies have applied self-determination theory to probe the psychological dynamics of problematic gaming, but little is known about these dynamics in adolescents—the targets of most concerns—or the extent to which dysregulated gaming, in turn, affects functioning. In our study of British adolescents and their caregivers (n = 2,008), we adopted a confirmatory lens to test the extent to which basic psychological need satisfactions and frustrations underlie dysfunctional gaming behavior. The results, in line with preregistered sampling and data-analysis plans, indicated the frustrations, but not the absence of satisfactions, of psychological needs predicted adolescents’ dysregulated gaming and psychosocial functioning. Our discussion focuses on the clinical significance of gaming dysregulation and the advantages of transparent scientific practices for research informed by, and meant to inform, APA and WHO guidance.”


“Health organizations require robust evidence to inform their ongoing decision making regarding whether dysregulated gaming constitutes a significant psychiatric condition meriting clinical attention and resources. Given the high professional and reputational stakes, research meeting this need must be of the highest empirical and theoretical standards. The present work represents a concerted effort to investigate the phenomenon as outlined by the APA and WHO; we complemented rich theory with transparent scientific practices. The findings underscore the importance of experiences of need frustration as a robust predictor of both dysregulated gaming and psychosocial functioning. Our approach provides a template for researchers to expand on the scope of findings from this study; this program of work is needed to determine if the attention that researchers and clinicians give this immensely popular activity is empirically justified. Judged on the basis of the evidence reported in this study, we would conclude it is not. In this case, the negative results are highly significant for clinical researchers and health policymakers at the APA and WHO.”

In short, their study claims that those who spend an abnormal amount of time gaming do so as a result of other psychological issues, while the long periods of gaming do not cause any psychological issues themselves.

As stated on the Oxford Institute press release, “Based on data from over 1,000 adolescents and their caregivers, the study suggests those engaged in dysfunctional gaming are likely to have underlying frustrations and wider psychosocial functioning issues outside of games. These issues are likely to lead them to seek contentment by gaming, rather than being negatively impacted by gaming itself”.

Other key findings included:

Key findings include:

  • “Most adolescents played at least one internet-based game daily
  • Less than half of daily online gamers reported symptoms of obsessive gaming
  • Daily players were highly engaged, devoting an average of three hours a day to games.
  • There was little evidence that obsessive gaming significantly impacted adolescent outcomes.”

Professor Przybylski also offered his thoughts, stating that “In light of our findings we do not believe sufficient evidence exists to warrant thinking about gaming as a clinical disorder in its own right.”

“The World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association have called on researchers to investigate the clinical relevance of dysregulated video-gaming among adolescents, as previous studies have failed to examine the wider context of what is going on in these young peoples’ lives. This is something we seek to address with our new study. For the first time we apply motivational theory and open science principles to investigate if psychological need satisfactions and frustrations in adolescents’ daily lives are linked to dysregulated – or obsessive – gaming engagement.

Our findings provided no evidence suggesting an unhealthy relationship with gaming accounts for substantial emotional, peer and behavioral problems. Instead, variations in gaming experience are much more likely to be linked to whether adolescents’ basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and social belonging are being met and if they are already experiencing wider functioning issues. In light of our findings we do not believe sufficient evidence exists to warrant thinking about gaming as a clinical disorder in its own right.”

Dr. Weinstein also shared her thoughts, encouraging that other factors should be considered in future research. We urge healthcare professionals to look more closely at the underlying factors such as psychological satisfactions and everyday frustrations to understand why a minority of players feel like they must engage in gaming in an obsessive way.

Professor Przybylski agreed and added to Dr. Weinstein’s comments, though stating there as a need for better data and more cooperation from video game companies.

“Whilst the growing popularity of gaming has incited concerns from health care and mental health professions, our research provides no compelling evidence that games, on their own, are to blame for problems facing players. We need better data and the cooperation of video gaming companies if we are to get to the bottom of all this.”

Earlier this month neuroscientist Nastasia Griffioen of Radbound University warned against labeling gamers as addicts, due to very little evidence of video games being addictive.

In case you missed it, you can find our Gaming Disorder editorial series here (123). Part one also voices our doubts over the classification.

Oxford University researchers also declared no link between video game violence and aggressive teens in a “definitive” study.


Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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