Tag Archives: depression

How to read a social-science study

Photo by Flickr user Sociology at Work.

News outlets are chock-full of articles reporting some new study and what it says about health or climate change or violent video games. Reading these articles can sometimes be a little like playing that childhood game of telephone. By the time the message reaches you, it’s probably at least a little different from what the original person said. I’ve written for Poynter about how journalists can improve their coverage of research. Today I want to give everyday folks some pointers for reading and interpreting actual studies.

1. Get the actual study.
Articles usually mention the researchers involved, and the university, if there was one. Sometimes studies are locked away behind academic-journal paywalls, but if you do enough hunting you can find “author proofs” — non-final drafts — on the researchers’ web sites. Google is your friend, and you can’t assess a study if you don’t read it. I’m going to base this post off of one such proof, Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson’s Video Game Violence Use Among ‘‘Vulnerable’’ Populations. Load it up and read along.

2. Consider whether the study is linked to any recent events.
Most of the studies I look at here are about kids and violent video games. Although they may not be explicit, it’s notable that these studies picked up in frequency after events like the Columbine High School massacre and attempts to blame video games like Doom. Be suspicious when the sensationalism comes first and the studies follow. Among other things, this gives researchers an agenda, whether they say so or not. One of the reasons I like Ferguson and Olson in general is that they come right out and say it:

Existing societal concerns about video games have intensified after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre (Ferguson 2013) and other well-publicized school shootings. The tragic 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in Newtown, Connecticut resurrected these debates amid reports that the 20-year-old shooter was an avid gamer (e.g., Henderson 2012). … Given … the recurring media focus on video games, researchers need to do more to answer the questions of greatest public concern regarding video games and any potential harm to youth.

3. Look at the demographics of the sample.
The sample means the group that is included in the study; demographics refers to their characteristics. Since Ferguson and Olson have said this is meant to apply to the question of whether violent video games harm youth, especially with respect to school shootings, you’d want the sample to resemble school shooters demographically; age 13 to 17, usually male, usually white, usually suburban. Often, the sample is full of college kids who are over 18. That’s less than ideal to begin with.

In Ferguson and Olson’s study here, we have a pretty good range of kids: 377 youth with a mean age of 13 (which means they were a variety of ages in that range). 182 had ADD symptoms, while 284 had symptoms of depression (yes, that means 89 of them had symptoms of both). The sample included 140 boys and 234 girls, as well as 3 who did not declare a gender. There were urban and suburban kids, though it doesn’t say how many. The kids were mostly white, but a significant number of the kids from the urban school were black.

4. Look at the size of the sample.
This one’s pretty easy. Bigger is always better. The more subjects you have, the more you’re getting away from anecdotal information and the more you’re getting into actual data. Now, a larger sample of extremely similar kids is only useful if they resemble the outside-world kids you’re trying to represent. More ideal is a larger sample of different kinds of kids. 377, the number in this study, isn’t a ton, but it’s more than the 100-200 many such studies have.

5. Look at the methodology.
Most sociological experiments are highly synthetic constructs, which are meant to single out and test one particular aspect of everyday life. In this case, Ferguson and Olson opted to put the kids through a survey or a questionnaire, which can be tricky because the results are only as good as the honesty of the kids. I personally think kids are reasonably reliable at answering certain kinds of questions (like how often they play certain kinds of video games, which was asked here) and not necessarily others (things they might not want adults to know, like sexual or drug experimentation). Still, it’s worth taking most self-report studies with a grain of salt, unless they’re corroborated with other data from the subjects’s lives.

(I’d also like to point out a detail from their survey that is relevant to this blog: Of all the kids they surveyed, only 6.1 percent had played no video games in the prior 6 months, and only 11 percent had played no violent video games. These are kids with a mean age of 13. In other words, most kids are playing them. Where’s the giant surge of violence and aggression?)

6. Look at what they say about the results.
This is especially true if you’re comparing your own read of a study to what was reported in the news. Here are the results from this study, truncated:

With the sample of children with clinically elevated depressive symptoms and regarding delinquent criminality as an outcome only stress and trait aggression were predictive of delinquent criminality. Neither exposure to video game violence nor the interaction between trait aggression and exposure to video game violence were predictive of delinquent outcomes.

In other words, among the kids with symptoms of depression, mood issues alone didn’t correlate with delinquency. Only if they were under stress and were aggressive did they have a tendency to be delinquent. Video games didn’t seem to play a role.

They go through other trait combinations and look at bullying as well as delinquency. Here’s one interesting angle to the study, which is one a lot of news outlets focused on:

Finally, with the sample once again of children with clinically elevated attention deficit symptoms and with regards to bullying behavior only trait aggression was predictive of bullying behaviors along with the interaction between trait aggression and exposure to violent games did approach significance suggesting that highly trait aggressive children who also played violent video games were less likely to engage in bullying behaviors. Exposure to video game violence was not a significant predictor of bullying behaviors.

Note that that result, while interesting, only “approached significance” mathematically, and they immediately point out that none of the findings in this section was statistically significant. In other words, it’s inconclusive.

7. Read the “discussion” section carefully.
This is where the researchers explain their findings and discuss how they think they should be interpreted. While journalists often overemphasize certain things (which makes for a more compelling news story), researchers usually de-emphasize. Here’s what they say about the above result:

[After saying they didn’t find video games were a factor n kids’ violent behavior.] The only exception was our finding that, for children with elevated attention deficit symptoms, trait aggression and video game violence interacted in such a way as to predict reduced bullying. This could be considered some small correlational evidence for a cathartic type effect, although we note it was for only one of four outcomes and small in effect size. Thus we caution against overinterpretation of this result.

8. Read the “limitations” section even more carefully.
This is where researchers will tell you the shortcomings of the methods they used, as well as the extent to which their findings are useful. They’ll usually suggest how future research can build upon what they’ve found, should anyone care to follow up with a larger or at least related study. This study’s limitations section is accompanied by a “word of caution” section, both of which are worth reading in full.

9. Check for bias.
Look at the researchers’ websites. Look at the titles of their papers, and see if you notice a trend. If they keep finding the same things over and over, there’s a chance they’re suffering from researcher bias. There’s a lot of this in the violent-video-game research world, which is one reason you see the same names popping up again and again (and finding the same things again and again).

10. Follow the money.
If research was conducted by an academic, chances are good that the money came from the university where they work. That could include public or private dollars. Unfortunately, researchers are pretty mum about where that money comes from or how much a given study cost. But at least sniff around and see what you can learn.

If you’re tired of reading about video games, this is a great breakdown of how the myth that eating breakfast helps you lose weight became so pervasive, and why it’s wrong. It also discusses the difference between association (correlation) and causation, which is important to understand when reading any sociological study, as well as how even the “gold standard” methods for research can be wrong, especially when they aren’t backed by further research.

So there you go. Now you know how to read a social-science study. Go read some more and have fun! Commenters: can you think of anything I’ve left out that you’d like to add?

Gamespot: “Video Games vs. Depression”

Gamespot’s Danny O’Dwyer recently made an important program about depression and mental health, and how video games can be a part of the coping and recovery process. It’s wonderful and thoughtful. Check it out here.

Can’t we make up our minds about video games?

Video games are bad for kids. No, wait, they’re not. Who’s right? Photo by Flickr user sean dreilinger.

It’s 2012, and video games have been with us for almost 40 years. Kids of all ages have been playing them for that entire time. If video games were going to cause massive changes in the behavior or psychology of young gamers, we’d know about it by now.

And yet there are large chunks of society that cling tightly to the idea that video games — violent video games in particular — are bad for kids. Take, for example, a recent article on Wired.com that asks, “Do Violent Video Games Make Kids More Violent?” In it, GeekMom writer Andrea Schwalm writes about appearing on Al Jazeera’s The Stream on the topic of kids and gaming. The show focused, specifically, on Call of Duty: Black Ops II, of which she writes:

While my teenaged sons do play some M-rated games (currently, Halo 4 and Dishonored are in heavy weekend rotation), I wasn’t familiar with the Call of Duty franchise. After watching some YouTube clips of the game online, I wondered, “Is this how foreign countries think American children spend all of their free time?”

And yet, as the host of The Stream pointed out, the truth is, the game sold $500 million in its’ first 24 hours, was a trending topic on Twitter, and is played by children. If you look at the incarceration rates in America, it seems a legitimate question: does the ubiquity of video game violence beget real-life violence?

This is the kind of ridiculous logic that sends so many people down the wrong rabbit hole. The main problem here is, she doesn’t explain who is being incarcerated — if she took a look, she would realize it isn’t kids. America’s hefty incarceration rate, in large part, is due to the massive “War on Drugs” as well as the disproportionate number of minorities being jailed; it isn’t gamer teens winding up behind bars.

Fortunately, she turns to Doug Gentile. Now, I haven’t agreed with Gentile much on this site, but there are moments where I think he’s on the right track, moments where he puts his findings in broader context, and I’m glad to see at least one mom listening:

The only way that anyone does something seriously violent is if they have multiple risk factors and limited protective factors for violent behavior, and thankfully most of our children have a great many protective factors, can consume a lot of violent video games, and still never do anything violent.

Slightly more logical is a recent Kotaku piece from Phil Owen, which asks, “Do Video Games Make Depression Worse?” Owen also turns to Gentile who, after conducting a study on just that topic — and finding evidence that video games were indeed somehow making his test subjects’ depression worse — actually argued that it’s more complex than his results would suggest:

“I don’t really think [the depression] is following. I think it’s truly comorbid. … As you get more depressed you retreat more into games, which doesn’t help, because it doesn’t actually solve the problem. It doesn’t help your depression, so your depression gets worse, so you play more games, so your depression gets worse, etc. It becomes a negative spiral.”

Still, we can’t listen to the All-Doug-Gentile-All-The-Time Channel, can we? Thankfully, we also have the International Society for Research on Aggression releasing studies that show exposure to violent media increases the risk of aggressive behavior. (Oh, wait, Gentile is on the commission.)

This is one of those times when researchers look at the existing research and cobble it together to come up with some kind of meta-finding. The problem is, most of the research to date has been slanted in the negative direction — that is, it finds some relationship between violent video games and youth aggression, but that’s because it’s what society and researchers wanted to find, and because the research showing no such links — or showing violent games’ upsides — is just beginning to catch up.

IRSA chair Craig Anderson said, “Having such a clear statement by an unbiased, international scientific group should be very helpful to a number of child advocacy groups.” But any group that includes Anderson and Gentile — whose work overwhelmingly supports the violent-game/aggression theory — can’t be called “unbiased.” Sorry, guys.

So why is all this attention focused on video games? Has the sexuality and violence vanished from blockbuster movies, television shows, or young-adult fiction? Hardly. But for some reason, there’s little to no research — or public furor — focused on those old-hat forms of entertainment. Dan Houser, cofounder of Rockstar Games (home of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, among others), recently took note of video games’ pariah status in a recent Guardian interview highlighted on Kotaku:

“We never felt that we were being attacked for the content, we were being attacked for the medium, which felt a little unfair. If all of this stuff had been put into a book or a movie, people wouldn’t have blinked an eye.”

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Plenty of people see the good in violent video games, or at least the harmlessness.

If violent video games — first-person shooters, say — are such lousy influences, then how are they capable of engendering sympathy? Jens Stober, a game designer and PhD student in Germany, is developing a video game in which players can assume the roles of Australian border guards or foreign refugees. Stober has written other border-centered games, such as “1378,” in which players can assume the roles of border guards or refugees fleeing East German communists. In that game, the guards can shoot fugitives, which earned Stober death threats.

But, as with many games, it’s all in the eye of the beholder:

[Stober] claims [the games] actually penalise players for shooting, and that the main aim is to educate people about political issues using game mechanics.

“You can have a gun, you can use it, but if you use it you will lose points and lose the game,” he says.

The players who are refugees must cooperate to evade the border guards while the guards try to arrest them. Along the way, the game dishes out educational factoids designed to provoke deeper thought about the issues.

Another recent article, by Brian Hampel for Kansas State University’s The Collegian, makes quite a different case for violent video games and society as a whole: he argues that our media is so violent because, well, we just like violence: “Popular culture isn’t a thermostat that dictates our tastes and trends; it’s a thermometer that shows us tastes and trends that already exist in the cultural zeitgeist,” he writes.

But his conclusions come quite close to things I’ve said at Backward Messages before, so I’d like to close with them:

It turns out that the real [culprits] behind youth violence are depression, delinquent peer association and negative relationships with adults. Who would have guessed?

You wouldn’t know it from watching news networks’ coverage of school shootings, but it’s true. Not only is violence not caused by the media, but it’s also in decline. I guess it’s easy to get the impression that we’re violent by watching the news, which could very well be the most violent medium of all.

Let’s play “imagine the Aurora killer’s motivations!”

Aurora, Colorado, shooting suspect James Holmes, in a recent mugshot courtesy the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

We’ve had the weekend to begin to digest the news of what happened in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday morning. While officials spent much of the weekend de-activating suspect James Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment — where the most information about Holmes’ life is likely kept — reporters began circulating among his former friends and neighbors, gathering what shreds of information they could about a man who apparently lived little of his life on the Internet and mostly kept his interests and proclivities private.

In the absence of much information, people’s — and pundits’ — imaginations have begun to fill in the details.

For example, Pat Brown, a criminal profiler, speculated on CNN that video games were at the center of Holmes’ murderous outburst:

“He’s probably prepared for this for a long time, just obsessing over it, gathering his weapons,” Brown said on CNN. ”[He] probably spent a lot of time in his apartment, playing one video game after the other—shooting, shooting, shooting—building up his courage and building up the excitement of when it’s going to be real for him. And it’s made his day.”

“This has been something he has really been into. And now we’re going to find, probably on [Facebook] or anybody who knows him will say, ‘Yeah, he did have a lot of interest in that. He was always playing the video games. And I’m not saying video games make you a killer. But if you’re a psychopath, video games help you get in the mode to do the killing.”

Perhaps more innocently, the Los Angeles Times circulated an article in which a childhood friend of Holmes said the suspected shooter enjoyed video games and movies as a teenager. Of course, that’s like saying a teenager enjoyed loud music, Facebook, and sleeping until noon. None of it describes Holmes with any accuracy, and it especially doesn’t say anything about his ability to plan and commit such a horrific crime. However, pundits like Brown, and anyone who believes video games cause violent behavior, will jump on such a line and consider it evidence.

In fact, much research has found no link between mass shootings and video games. Some shooters may play video games, but the one doesn’t cause the other.

There are a couple of reports that Holmes was into role-playing games. Of course, those reports are coming from fishy-looking Web sites that harbor more conspiracy theories (or, er, boxing information) than actual fact-based journalism.

Then come the religious pundits who argue that the shooting was, in fact, motivated by Satan. In the Christian Post, Greg Stier writes that a text-message exchange about the shootings:

… got me thinking about another “Dark Knight” who ruled the heart of a gunman in Aurora last night. It got me thinking about Satan’s role in the Columbine massacre on April 20th, 1999 when he invaded the hearts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It got me thinking about Satan and the stranglehold he has in the souls of so many. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that this dark knight, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and he did just that last night. He used the trigger finger of this twisted madman to steal innocence, kill people and destroy hope.

Research has indicated that Eric Harris’ psychopathy and Dylan Klebold’s depression, not Satan, was ultimately behind what happened in Columbine. (Apparently Stier didn’t get that memo.) I can understand the impulse to name the Devil as a scapegoat when we don’t understand why something awful has happened, and I’m thankful that Stier is blaming a mythological figure, rather than real-life Satanists, for what went on in that midnight movie.

As long as we blame forces outside ourselves (and to some extent outside our control), we let go of our power over very real, treatable motivations, such as mental illness in the Columbine case. In other words, it means we not only let the killers off the hook, we let ourselves off the hook for not intervening if someone we love goes off the deep end in a catastrophically violent way. It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t his fault. It was Satan. It was video games. It was role-playing games.

Speaking of Columbine, Dave Cullen, the author of the definitive book on the shootings, wrote a piece in the New York Times decrying the temptation to jump to conclusions, and we all should heed it:

Over the next several days, you will be hit with all sorts of evidence fragments suggesting one motive or another. Don’t believe any one detail. Mr. Holmes has already been described as a loner. Proceed with caution on that. Nearly every shooter gets tagged with that label, because the public is convinced that that’s the profile, and people barely acquainted with the gunman parrot it back to every journalist they encounter. The Secret Service report determined that it’s usually not true.

Remember when the Satanic Panic ended? Apparently, it’s not over for everyone.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a panic swept the nation. People became convinced that both adults and children had been conned into joining Satanic cults, where they were forced to do all manner of horrific things — and then repressed those memories because they were so traumatic. In other words, they forgot.

Do you buy that? A lot of other people didn’t, either.

The phenomenon, now thoroughly debunked, was known at the time as Satanic ritual abuse. Psychologists no longer believe in it. Well, most of them don’t.

Lisa Nasser, 41, is suing her former therapist, Mark Schwartz, and the Castlewood Treatment Center in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a patient at Castlewood for 15 months, undergoing treatment for anorexia.

In her lawsuit, Nasser alleges that Schwartz hypnotized her while she was under the influence of psychotropic medications used to treat depression. During those sessions, she says he brainwashed her into believing that she’d been part of a Satanic cult. Among the implanted memories were that:

she was involved in or perpetrated various criminal and horrific acts of abuse. One of those acts included participating “in a ritualistic eating of babies,” according to [Nasseff’s lawyer Kenneth] Vuylsteke.

She’s apparently not the only patient of Schwartz’s to go through this, though none have officially come forward.

Let’s step away from Nasseff for a moment and look at Schwartz. Anyone old enough to be a practicing therapist at this point is likely to have a) lived through the “Satanic panic” brought on by the SRA/false memory phenomenon, or b) learned about it in the course of their psychological training. If indeed he did what Nasseff claims, you have to wonder a couple of things. One, why would he introduce these kinds of ideas, knowing they’d been debunked before? And two — the part I want to explore — what do these kinds of “memories” say about our cultural perceptions of Satanism?

Despite assurances, people still seem to believe widely that Satanists practice different forms of sacrifice, from animals to people. Apparently, some even believe they eat babies. All of this comes from longstanding public-relations problems, and popular fiction certainly hasn’t helped.

Nor has the media, which plays up the “Satanic” angle whenever it can. Satan’s the biggest bogeyman in the Western world, and he apparently sells a lot of newspapers and television airtime, because reporters love to use the term to describe just about anything people don’t like. It’s also a very imprecise term, as Satanism expert Diane Vera points out:

Newspapers too are more likely to refer to our criminal fringe as “Satanists” rather than “Devil worshipers,” if only because the word “Satanist” is shorter and can fit more easily into a headline. And there isn’t much that anyone can do to change this, because no one has a copyright or trademark on the word “Satanism.” The word “Satanism” was in dictionaries long before any of today’s public Satanists were born.

Fortunately, casses like Nasser’s are few and far between — unlike 20 years ago. But as long as they arise, they speak volumes about our cultural fears. Fears which wind up getting directed at people who legitimately practice Satanism peacefully.

Hopefully, nobody who reads about Nasser’s case will think her “memories” could be true. Unfortunately, to judge by <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/therapist-accused-implanting-satanic-memories/comments?type=story&id=15043529#.Tt0S0HNWFRQthe comments, some do.

Study: heavy metal makes you suicidal, after all

In 1990, Judas Priest was sued for allegedly inspiring the suicides of two teen fans. They were cleared of all charges. Was the judge wrong? Photo by Flickr user Fernando Catalina Landa.

By now, the old moral panic over heavy metal and suicidal behavior is so old-hat that it’s almost laughable, right? Bands like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were taken to court over allegations that their music had inspired suicide attempts among fans, but the judges in those cases found them innocent of all charges. Heavy-metal researchers like Jeffrey Jensen Arnett have gone deep into the subculture to find out why some kids love metal so much — and found that the music provides solace for all kinds of listeners. Sure, depression, suicide, and dark music sometimes go hand in hand, but it’s usually the depression that came first.

Not so fast, according to University of Melbourne researcher Katrina McFerran. She has just published a new study claiming heavy metal causes depression and suicidal feelings in listeners. (Editor’s note: the link to the news item about the study lists it as number 666! Coincidence?) Since the actual study appears to be unavailable, we’re going to just have to go on what it says in the press release:

“The mp3 revolution means that young people are accessing music more than ever before and it’s not uncommon for some to listen to music for seven or eight hours a day,” she said.

“Most young people listen to a range of music in positive ways; to block out crowds, to lift their mood or to give them energy when exercising, but young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way.

“Examples of this are when someone listens to the same song or album of heavy metal music over and over again and doesn’t listen to anything else. They do this to isolate themselves or escape from reality.

“If this behavior continues over a period of time then it might indicate that this young person is suffering from depression or anxiety, and at worst, might suggest suicidal tendencies.”

Whenever I like a song — whether it’s a heavy metal song or not — I do tend to listen to it a lot. I think this is pretty normal among people who passionate about music (as opposed to folks who simply have a passing interest in it). I clearly remember listening to Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” on endless loop. And, yes, I’ve done this with plenty of heavy-metal songs, too. It wasn’t to block anything out. It was because the song touched me.

Now, McFerran may have a point. Some kids who are already depressed may also listen to the same piece of music over and over, to find comfort in it. But she suggests that this behavior on its own is worrisome and might mean a kid is at risk of suicide. There are already well established warning signs of teen suicide, and “listening to heavy metal on endless loop” isn’t one of them. Generally, people listen to music to make them feel better. Even if it doesn’t seem on the surface that they feel better, it’s keeping them from feeling worse, and that’s an important distinction.

What I’m getting at is: there may be a correlation between depression, suicidal feelings, and love of heavy metal (although fans of any kind of music are certainly susceptible), but that correlation doesn’t suggest that heavy metal is causing those feelings — or that it’s making them worse. But McFerran is suggesting it does, and that’s like suggesting Bic Macs cause bank robberies simply because some bank robbers have eaten them every day for several weeks. (If anything could be said for such eating habits, you could say it causes you to make documentaries. Right?)

At any rate, I suspect McFerran is seeing things a bit backwards — and putting out information that might frighten, rather than assist, parents.

Video games: Saving lives, soothing depression, tickling brains and quieting the nag (since 1972)

Gamers behind the Mario Kart wheel. Photo by Flickr user RonaldWong.

In the arcade, being gay simply didn’t matter; it wasn’t a place of sex or relationships, so it didn’t matter that I was wanting to be romantically involved with guys as opposed to girls. All that mattered there were good matches and getting better.

So I did.

And that saved me from my desire to die. While I was improving myself in the arcade, either with Guilty Gear or at home with Smash (and my local train station had a gc with smash set up in front of it to attract customers to the game shop there). My time out of school was mostly dedicated to improving myself.

This may sound sad, spending so much time fixated on games. But at the time I was so depressed it was hard to hang around people. So what did this fixation do for me? It occupied my mind. During those days I started considering how to improve my ky or Bridget in GG, how to improve my use of Link’s Boomerang usage and so on. It stopped me thinking about death all the time. It saved me from going insane.

— Rowan Carmichael, How Games Saved My Life

Ashly Burch (blogger at Hey, Ash, Whatcha Playin’?) created How Games Saved My Life last month as a way to gather stories from gamers that show video games’ positive side. Already, she’s collected dozens of stories and she’s poised to attract many more, now that she’s gained attention from sites like Kotaku and Ars Technica.

I heard many similar stories while conducting interviews for Backward Messages. Perhaps not every gamer has such a story, but I suspect many, if not most, do. These aren’t stories that many kids share with their parents — these stories remain especially hidden when the parent/child relationship is most fractured, and this is when kids most need games as an outlet. Fellow gamers and parents can come to a site like this, browse around, and hear something similar to what their own child might be too shy or scared to talk about.

These stories are powerful. Beyond that, they reveal an incredible amount of self-awareness — a self-awareness many adults do not give kids credit for possessing. Those who would try to keep video games, including violent games, out of the hands of minors on the grounds that they are too violent make the assumption that kids who love these games are a blank slate, not considering what they’re playing. On the contrary, kids seek these games out like medicine. They know what they need, and know they are healed by it. And we need to listen to them.

Burch’s site comes at a time when the news wires have been jumping with reports about video games. For example, TodaysTHV.com, a news station in Arkansas, recently reported, “Study links teen depression risk to hours spent with online media.” Look at that, and then look at Rowan’s story. Then check out this quote from one of the study’s authors, Erick Messias:

“We need to do a better job of understanding how the Internet and video games, whether violent or not, affect young people. For many, the Internet and video games are the only form of social interaction they have; they are their primary source of communication,” says Messias. “We fully don’t understand the consequences of this kind of stimulation, but we hope this work will lead to improving the screening process in adolescents.”

Correlation is not causation. Teens turn to video games as a source of solace from problems, including depression. The video games aren’t the problem — they’re part of a coping strategy, even a recovery process. That’s what needs studying.

Over at Forbes, blogger David M. Ewalt posits, “Do Video Games Make You Smarter? Maybe Not.” In it, he analyzes a new study that questions prior research showing that video games improve mental acuity and performance. One problem with such studies, he says, is, “gamers perform better on cognitive tests because they’ve heard that gamers perform better on cognitive tests.” Well, true. This is a complicated issue, to be sure — and games have many benefits beyond what’s shown in scientific tests.

Amusingly, the Deseret News recently reported that “Negative, nagging parents cause kids to play video games more, not less.” No ironies there; of course kids who feel henpecked, particularly over their favorite pastimes, are going to turn to those pastimes as an escape. Actual dialogue about specific video games and their appeal to a child is always going to be more effective.

Readers, did a video game save your life, or the life of someone you know? Share stories in the comments.