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Video games are sometimes stigmatized as an isolating activity, but youth seem to consider this a social pastime. Over 52% of teens spend time playing video games with friends (Lenhart, Smith, Anderson, Duggan, & Perrin, 2015) and adolescents indicate social reasons as a main motivation for engaging in gaming (Yee, 2007). Gaming may fulfill a social role, as research has indicated that video games can promote the development and maintenance of real-life relationships (de Grove, 2014; Domahidi, Festl, & Quandt, 2014; Snodgrass, Lacy, Francois Dengah, & Fagan, 2011). However, playing games online has also been related to a smaller offline social circle (Kowert, Domahidi, Festl, & Quandt, 2014) and increased loneliness (Lemmens, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2011). The current study adds to these findings by investigating the longitudinal relation between loneliness and the way in which adolescent’s play video games. Specifically, we tested whether playing games alone, online, or offline with others predicts developmental trajectories of loneliness.
A three-wave longitudinal study was conducted among 694 adolescents from grade 7th to 10th (Mage = 14.62, SD= 0.99). Self-reported loneliness was measured each year with the Loneliness and Aloneness Scale for Children and Adolescents (Marcoen, Goossens, & Caes, 1987). Video game play behavior was measured at T1. Participants indicated the social context in which they play games using the question “In what way do you usually play videogames?”. There were three possible answer options (1 = Alone, 2 = Together with others online, 3 = Together with others offline (for instance, on the couch)).
First, Growth Mixture Modelling was used to identify longitudinal clusters of loneliness. Significant intercept and slope variances were found for loneliness (Di = .16, p < .001; Ds = .04, p < .001), suggesting that adolescents followed different trajectories of loneliness that may form identifiable clusters. Two- to six-class solutions were estimated. Gender was included as a covariate. Lo‐Mendell‐Rubin tests of model fit indicated a 4-class solution as superior. Based on the intercept and slope, the four cluster of loneliness were labelled as “average stable”, “average increasing”, “high decreasing”, and “low stable”. Trajectories are presented in Figure 1.
Second, we tested whether the social context of gaming at T1 predicted adolescents’ representation on loneliness clusters using Fisher’s Z exact test. The adjusted standardized residuals showed that adolescents who usually play games online were underrepresented in the average stable cluster and overrepresented in the low stable cluster. In contrast, adolescents who do not play video games at all were underrepresented in the low stable cluster. Those who play games alone or offline with friends were not over- or underrepresented in any of the loneliness trajectory clusters. Results are presented in Table 1.
These findings suggest that adolescents who predominantly play games online with others tend to score consistently low on loneliness. Adolescents who do not play video games at all show relatively higher loneliness, which also remains stable over time. The social context in which video games are played did not predict a trajectory of either increasing or decreasing loneliness.
Geert P. Verheijen, Radboud University
Yvonne van den Berg, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Douglas A. Gentile, Iowa State University, Ames, IA
Sabine Stoltz, Radboud University
Toon Cillessen, Radboud University