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Is time spent playing video games associated with mental health, cognitive and social skills in young children?



Video games are one of the favourite leisure activities of children; the influence on child health is usually perceived to be negative. The present study assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children mental health as well as cognitive and social skills.


Data were drawn from the School Children Mental Health Europe project conducted in six European Union countries (youth ages 6–11, n = 3195). Child mental health was assessed by parents and teachers using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and by children themselves with the Dominic Interactive. Child video game usage was reported by the parents. Teachers evaluated academic functioning. Multivariable logistic regressions were used.


20 % of the children played video games more than 5 h per week. Factors associated with time spent playing video games included being a boy, being older, and belonging to a medium size family. Having a less educated, single, inactive, or psychologically distressed mother decreased time spent playing video games. Children living in Western European countries were significantly less likely to have high video game usage (9.66 vs 20.49 %) though this was not homogenous. Once adjusted for child age and gender, number of children, mothers age, marital status, education, employment status, psychological distress, and region, high usage was associated with 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning (95 % CI 1.31–2.33), and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence (95 % CI 1.44–2.47). Once controlled for high usage predictors, there were no significant associations with any child self-reported or mother- or teacher-reported mental health problems. High usage was associated with decreases in peer relationship problems [OR 0.41 (0.2–0.86) and in prosocial deficits (0.23 (0.07, 0.81)].


Playing video games may have positive effects on young children. Understanding the mechanisms through which video game use may stimulate children should be further investigated.

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Strengths Difficulties Questionnaire


Dominic Interactive


School Children Mental Health Europe


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This project had been financed by the European Union, Grant Number 2006336. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We would like to thank the SCMHE group and everyone that contributed to the European report including interviewers who worked in the participating countries. In addition, we would like to thank the parents, young people, and teachers for their cooperation in contributing to the survey. Special thanks for Jean-Pierre Valla, for making the Dominic Interactive available in the participating countries languages.

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Correspondence to Viviane Kovess-Masfety.

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Kovess-Masfety, V., Keyes, K., Hamilton, A. et al. Is time spent playing video games associated with mental health, cognitive and social skills in young children?. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 51, 349–357 (2016).

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  • Mental health
  • Children
  • Epidemiology
  • Gambling