Tuesday, April 9, 2024

How do Genetics Influence our Gaming Habits?

Gaming is an increasingly ever growing pastime that people of all ages participate in. Gaming has become increasingly accessible across many different platforms, and continues to become more accessible as the capabilities of our smallest technological accessories become more capable, and have become more popular thanks to social media and streaming platforms. As society evolves, our understanding of how this activity affects our populations has to increase, so we can guarantee that there is as little harm done as possible to future generations. In a recent study done in Sweden, researchers sought to answer several very important questions regarding the effects of gaming:

  1. What is the relative genetic and environmental contribution to gaming behavior?

  2. Are there sex differences in the relative genetic and environmental contribution to gaming behavior?

  3. Is gaming frequency in childhood (9 years) associated with gaming behavior in adolescence (15 and 18 years)?

  4. What is the relative genetic and environmental contribution for continuity and change in gaming behavior?

In order to answer these 4 questions, researchers used a questionnaire to gather data from parents of 32,006 twins (the sample size of the analytical group, the total number of participants was higher), and periodically questioned the parents of these twins about their children’s frequency to play video games for more than 30 minutes in a day. Both monozygotic and dizygotic twins were used in the study. Besides age, other variables were included such as biological sex and age to examine the effects of genetic vs environmental influence. 

“So what did they find?” You may (or may not) be asking. For the data, researchers measured variance, meaning how much the data differentiated from the mean. Therefore, a higher variance means a greater difference in factors among the twins of  the study. Well, they found that for boys, genetic factors contributed to an increase in variance for males as they age⎯ where males at age 9 showed a 31.3% variance, males at 15 showed a 62.5% variance, and males age 18 showed a 53.9% variance in gaming behavior. As for females, the variance remained mostly stable, with the results showing a 70.5% variance for females at age 9, 61.8% at age 15, and 60.5% at age 18. This difference in variance for females is mostly explained by shared environmental factors as opposed to males. According to the researchers, a lot of the variance can be explained by the environmental and genetic factors related to the ages of the children in these studies. 

In my opinion, these kinds of studies are very important for developing a deeper understanding of how gaming affects our youth. Left unchecked, gaming habits or addictions can certainly have dark implications for a child’s future as a functioning member of society. With that being said, there is a lot to appreciate with regards to how this study was designed, and how it turned out on paper. The most important factor to appreciate⎯ the sample size. A staggering 32,006 twins were a part of the analytic sample, where parents of 37,055 twins had completed the questionnaire on at least one occasion. At the same time, I myself have been left with a few questions:

  1. What genres of games were these children playing? 

  2. Did having to share a console with a twin have any influence on lessening the amount of time the children spent playing these games compared to an only child? 

  3. Could the increase in variance (for males) be explained by the addition of another gaming system for each twin to indulge in at their own leisure? 

  4. What are the societal and cultural impacts that could be influencing the data or could influence future data based on this study? (All of this data comes from Sweden.)

Nilsson A, Kuja-Halkola R, Lichtenstein P, Larsson H, Lundström S, Fatouros-Bergman H, Jayaram-
    Lindström N, Molero Y. The genetics of gaming: A longitudinal twin study. JCPP Adv. 2023 May
     28;3(4):e12179. doi: 10.1002/jcv2.12179. PMID: 38054048; PMCID: PMC10694538.

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