Field of Science

Kids vs Psychiatrists: Final score 1-0

ResearchBlogging.orgBy now many have heard about the recent study published in Pediatrics which, of course, shows a clear link between extensive video game playing and depression in teenagers. You may have also heard about another recent publication of a study conducted by 8-10 year olds.

"How are these studies related?" You may ask.

"They are not." I may respond. Actually I will respond. These studies have nothing to do with each other. However, they are related from the perspective that they are BIG news!

In the first case MPR was all over it this morning. Here is the audio of the program:

Kerri Miller had a psychiatrist on to discuss this paper and she did an excellent job IMO in noting the post hoc ergo propter hoc argument that would be immediately made. Dr. Richard Gallagher noted this issue but then ignored it. The take home message of this study is that teenagers who played video games a ton of time were more likely to have symptoms associated with depression a couple of years later. So what does this mean?

First, let's back up and ask whether there is reason to think this study means nothing. This study was conducted in Singapore and the children in the study were primarily from China, Malaysia, and India. Does this matter? YES! The are significant cultural differences between these students and US students, to whom these study results will be applied (This study wasn't on MPR to highlight issues specific to students in Asia).

Just because a study primarily uses students from another culture does not discredit said study, but it is an important factor to consider. A study on American children may not be applicable to France, but that does not mean it should be ignored, it simply means we need to 'critical think' about the data (as we always should).

Alright back to the Pediatrics study at hand. The conclusion that will be the headline in newspapers, "Video game playing leads to teenage depression," is it valid? Kerri Miller basically pointed out that correlation does not equal causation. I agree with her. Dr. Gallagher reiterated these points, but immediately back pedaled every time as far as I heard. He noted that isolation may lead to depression (or be a symptom of depression), which explains why playing a lot of video games is bad. I called in, but didn't get on air, with the question if 'isolation' is the problem, then what is the depression incidence in kids that watch 30+ hours of TV or read for 30+ hours (30+ hours of video game playing/week was the linked criteria in the study). If Dr. Gallagher's hypothesis is correct, then any activity that results in social isolation should promote depression. (Caveats: the authors of the study did not differentiate social video game playing from asocial video game playing AND depression symptoms were identified but this was by self-assessment and no clinical criteria for depression was used nor associated with playing video games.) 

Before the whines come in, I am NOT saying playing video games for 4-5 hours daily is a good or neutral thing for middle/high school students or anyone else). But maybe kids disposed to depression will find any venue of escape, video games being the current modus operandi. In the 1970s it was TV, in the 1950s it was books, etc.

My concern is that we, as a society, will use this or similar studies to ignore real issues affecting the metal well-being of our children. BTW, don't let your children play video games 4-5 hours/day every day. I mean REALLY!?!?!

Now to offset this study, I present the children of Blackawton Primary School in England. These kids just published a paper in the journal Biology Letters. This is a research paper in which the research was conducted by a group of 8-10 year old students (2-4th graders in US terms). Before I discuss anything about the paper, you should READ THE FUCKING THING!!! Dr. Lotto worked with some elementary school students, had the devise a previously untested hypothesis and test it. The kids learned something NEW!!! Something I didn't know about the universe, and something you certainly didn't know either. Read their paper!!! This is science at its unadulterated best. The kids were not twisting science to try and get funding from some institution with an agenda. They were doing science like many of us started out 'doing' science, because it is AWESOME!!!!

I love the idea of playing, and science as being playing 'with rules.' "Wait!" You say, "Rules are constricting, and how could a constricting environment lead to new information?"

Great question! I would argue that the 'rules' of science are not constricting. Nay, the 'rules' of science are part and parcel with the 'critical thinking' issues I was discussing in the previous post. These kids nail it. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, READ THIS PAPER!!!11!!11 It was written primarily by 8-10 year olds, now 10-12 year olds. You do not have to be smarter than a fifth grader to read this paper, although you do need to be smarter than a teabagger. A couple of great points about this paper. There are no references!!! The students came up with these ideas on their own independent of some deep framework. So who would you reference? The group that reported bees were alive? The figures are in crayon! Of ~1/3 of the seminars I see, the presenters could benefit from graphic design tips from these kids. Finally, with an N = 1, I find that kids do not conflate 'is' with 'ought'. The kids say it best themselves (from the last paragraph of their paper!),

"Before doing these experiments we did not really think a lot about bees and how they are as smart as us. We also did not think about the fact that without bees we would not survive, because bees keep the flowers going. So it is important to understand bees. We discovered how fun it was to train bees. This is also cool because you do not get to train bees everyday. We like bees. Science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Bees—seem to—think!)" (emphasis mine).

This can be offset by the aforementioned study, which ends thusly,

"This study begins to provide data to answer questions about the risk factors,
cause, course, and outcomes of pathological gaming. Pathological gaming seems not to be simply secondary to other disorders but to predict poorer functioning longitudinally, and it can last for several years. Several important questions remain to be answered, including information on protective factors, how children can be helped, and what types of help
might be most effective." (See our data doesn't show it, but playing video games too much leads to depression, which can be treated, or at least prevented, by limiting video game playing....paraphrase mine).
Blackawton PS, Airzee S, Allen A, Baker S, Berrow A, Blair C, Churchill M, Coles J, Cumming RF, Fraquelli L, Hackford C, Hinton Mellor A, Hutchcroft M, Ireland B, Jewsbury D, Littlejohns A, Littlejohns GM, Lotto M, McKeown J, O'Toole A, Richards H, Robbins-Davey L, Roblyn S, Rodwell-Lynn H, Schenck D, Springer J, Wishy A, Rodwell-Lynn T, Strudwick D, & Lotto RB (2010). Blackawton bees. Biology letters PMID: 21177694
Gentile DA, Choo H, Liau A, Sim T, Li D, Fung D, & Khoo A (2011). Pathological Video Game Use Among Youths: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study. Pediatrics PMID: 21242221


Azkyroth said...

Holy shit, they're STILL trying to find data to cherry-pick to demonize video games? I would have thought they'd moved on by now, like when our parents' generation hit the age of minority, a subset of them actually *grew up*, and rock music moved from "Satanic Conspiracy" to "normal."

The Lorax said...

'They' will always try to find something to be the cause of any unwanted or unacceptable outcome. It happens all the time. People seem to be hardwired to make correlation = causation conclusions especially if the conclusion fits with their preconceived biases.

For ever natural disaster, a small but not insignificant number of people will but it on the shoulders of others who behave in a way that is disapproved of.

Kids do abysmally in an urban public school, blame the unions that fight for teacher salaries and retention. Because all the teachers at failing schools suck ass, conversely all the teachers at great schools, populated by those well fed white kids, are magically awesome. Poverty has little to do failing schools.

People want explanations for events. They want to feel like the ability to control events is within their grasp. People are also lazy or at least want quick simple fixes (who doesn't). Unfortunately our ability to control tsunamis and earthquakes is limited to don't live near a coast or along a faultline. If there is a societal ill, like gang violence, then drop the blame
on illegal immigrants, taking prayer out of school, etc. Because complicated problems usually require simply fixes, you know like depression.