Examining the Link between Video Game Addiction and ADD

A new study out of Iowa State University found that people who play video games for 40-plus hours a week have a harder time focusing on certain tasks than those who play just a few hours a week. Published in the latest issue of the journal Psychophysiology, the study also supports previous research that found a positive correlation between video game addiction and attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Researchers collected data from 51 Iowa State undergrads ages 18 to 33, about half of whom reported playing less than a couple hours of video games a week, and about half of whom reported playing an average of 43 hours a week.

Researchers monitored brain activity while participants performed the Stroop Task, a standard measure to determine attention levels. Participants had to identify the color of a word when the color and word matched, and when they did not match. (It typically takes longer to indicate the color when the word does not match.)

They found that the ability to pay attention reactively (i.e. when prompted by a trigger, such as being shot at) is similar across both types of gamers, but brain wave and behavioral measures of proactive attention (i.e. anticipating a mechanism, such as collecting pots of gold) are significantly diminished in the 43-hour-a-week gamers.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore of CNET asks whether the propensity to play video games several hours a day is the cause or the effect of proactive attention issues. She writes that the study shows a correlation, but that more research is required to identify the true culprit.

“Right now the data we’re reporting in this study is really susceptible to the chicken and egg problem,” said Rob West, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Psychology Program at Iowa State.

“It might be that playing the games is actually producing this effect, but it could also be that individuals who, for whatever reason, like to play 40 hours a week also have this mode of attending to this kind of information in the world.”