Cognitive and psychological factors of negative consequences associated with playing MMOGs (Liu & Peng, 2009)

snapshot20090917091702I’ve recovered from a mild flu several days ago, it’s aggravating to be sick and a lot of things suddenly piled up when you’re away, especially when there are seven video game-related articles published just this month. So, I’ve decided to review two articles because they examined the same topic.

This is part 1 of 2 of studies investigating the relationship between MMOGs and internet addiction. Ming Liu and Wei Peng of Michigan State University examined how cognitive and psychological predictors of problematic internet use might be applicable to players with problematic use of MMOGs.

Abstract

This study integrates research on problematic Internet use to explore the cognitive and psychological predictors of negative consequences associated with playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). Participants recruited from online discussion boards completed self-report measures on their online game-related cognitions and psychological condition, social skills, psychological well-being, and negative life outcomes associated with game playing. The results demonstrated the important roles that psychological dependency and deficient self-regulation play in negative consequences associated with online gaming. The results also indicated that psychological dependency on MMOGs was predicted by cognitive preference for a virtual life—a construct that is negatively related to social control skills.

During my convalescence, I spent some time researching in Encyclopedia Dramatica. They did say laughter is the best medicine.According to the research literature, the technical term for internet addiction is ‘problematic’ or ‘pathological’ internet use. I prefer the word addiction since it’s a word that’s clear and straightforward. However, people tend to bring those once-technical words into the mainstream and smeared it with all sorts of connotations and secondary meaning, in the end something bad. In response, academics euphemize the term to something more neutral which will be bastardize when I turn 60. Please refer to George Carlin’s opinion on euphemisms for further ranting.

Liu and Peng listed three categories of negative life consequences for their study: physical problems, personal life problems and professional/academic problems. These types of problems are signposts of problematic internet use and they are generally difficult problems to deal with.

Besides the negative life consequences related to internet addiction, we should also be concerned of the direct consequences. Withdrawal symptoms of internet addiction closely resemble of other addictions, such as preoccupation, tolerance, relapse, withdrawal (from others and/or other activities), loss of control, concealment and escapism. The authors argue that such psychological dependency may also occur among MMOG players.

What are the cognitive and psychological predictors they examined?

The cognitive predictor is the preference for a virtual life. This preference is based on two components: maladaptive cognitions and preference for online social interaction. The term ‘unwarranted self-importance’ is the first thought when it comes to maladaptive cognitions. People with inflated egos thanks to the internets, makes it a very favourable life for those with a rather dull and dreary life in the real world (at least that’s how I think they see it). These distorted cognitions tend to overgeneralize about the real world which leads these individuals seeking a life in the virtual world. However, these individuals are also potential targets that will set their cognitions straight with the cruelest and lulzy means (IMO). Preference for online social interaction is when someone feels competent interacting online than offline. Other components of preference for a virtual life include the perceived lack of social skills, loneliness and depression. These are examined in the study.

The psychological predictor is self-regulation. Self-regulation is a context-dependent three stage process: self-monitoring, self-judgment and self-reaction. A failure of self-monitoring is losing track of time (which isn’t that bad if it happens occasionally) or behaving like an idiot. A failure of self-judgment is not realizing how trivial the game is compared with other real life activities or trivial a negative comment on your youtube channel is. Finally, a failure in self-reaction is the inaction of solving your excessive gaming or over-reacting to the negative comment. With a lack of self-regulation, the person in question might feel himself in a situation that is serious business, which is in fact not.

Method

Participants: 288 MMOG players, recruited online from discussion boards from Facebook and Yahoo! Groups. It’d be fun if we can get some from MySpace or Livejournal users. Participants were given an incentive of a raffle of winning Amazon.com gift cards. Average age is 27 years old, 66.3% are male 30.2% are female and the rest did not disclose their sex. Average MMOG play experience is 5 years and they spent an average 30 hours of play per week. The various MMO games played are like World of Warcraft, Runescape, Final Fantasy XI, etc.

Measures

Negative life consequences: 14 items on a 7-point scale. The items are divided to three categories: physical problems (6 items), personal life problems (5 items) and professional/academic problems (3 items, needs more).

Psychological dependency on MMOG scale: they adapted the withdrawal subscale of the Generalized Problematic Internet Use Scale. It has 5 items on a 7-point scale.

Preference for a virtual life: 7 items on a 7-point scale, the items were adapted from earlier studies.

Social control skills: 15 items on a 7-point scale. They’re adapted from the social control subscale of the Social skill Inventory. Example: “I can easily adjust to being in just about any social situations.” 

Loneliness and depression scale: 10 items from the UCLA Loneliness Scale, widely used in research, is used to assess loneliness. 7 items from the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CESD) is used to assess depression.

Results

Analyses were done with hierarchical multiple regressions.

Initial results found that participants, on average, have low levels of psychological dependency (M = 3.04) and negative life consequences. They have a moderate level of deficient self-regulation (M =3.26), but thankfully a low preference for a virtual life (M = 2.71), a moderate level of social control skills (M = 4.64), low levels of loneliness (M = 2.04) and depression (M = 1.70). That’s good and unsurprising, but it would’ve been nice if we can obtain larger sample and hopefully a larger range of scores on the measures of interest.

Their results have found that psychological dependency and deficient self-regulation were strong predictors for all types of negative life problems. Sex, age, ethnicity and play time were accounted in their analyses and were not significant. Except for personal life problems where age, being Asian and weekly play time were found to be predictors. In brief, these variables accounted between 36-55% of the variance. This means under their current model with their selected variables, you can count that psychological dependency and deficient self-regulation scores would account for 36-55% for the negative life problems, with the rest of the percentage to other factors or chance.

What about people’s preference for a virtual life? They found that it is significantly related to psychological dependency. Weekly play time is also significantly correlated with psychological dependency. Finally, this raised the explained variance to 26.9%.

From there, they found that social control skills was significantly predictive and accounted for 22.8% of the variance for preference for a virtual life. Other significant variables of note include weekly play time and being Asian.

To sum up, if you feel incompetent in a socially unfamiliar environment, you would have a higher preference for a virtual life. This preference, coupled with a very engaging video game that can hold you for hours a sitting or simply playing long hours, would increase your risk of being psychologically addicted to the internet. Along with a low level of self-regulation, your psychologically addicted internet self would probably find some problems with health, social life and school or work if you were found playing some MMOGs (or any other internet activities I would add). 

I am pleasantly surprised that being Asian was found to be a significant factor for personal life problems and a preference for a virtual life. I would say that it might be a fluke and further study is needed to confirm the results. For the moment to say that it’s true, this might be an indicator of a cultural factor, which specific part of the culture is hard to say. Perhaps, the relative (to Blacks and Latinos) lack of social integration in Western society might put a strain on them in real life or high expectations found in Asian families might penalize them if they play on online games. I don’t know, it’s very speculative and needs some replication to confirm these results.

Well, there are several things that came out from this study are that, for one, long hours do not equate addiction and reducing those hours won’t help either. People will have to deal with the underlying psychological causes or symptoms if they’re going to draw themselves out their internet and gaming addictions. However, the study is just a correlational study and therefore it cannot determine causality.

Liu, M., & Peng, W. (2009). Cognitive and psychological predictors of the negative outcomes associated with playing MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games). Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 1306-1311.

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4 thoughts on “Cognitive and psychological factors of negative consequences associated with playing MMOGs (Liu & Peng, 2009)

  1. Not everyone finds it easy to speak to people they do not know, but it is worth taking the time to do so. The better you get to know athletics writers, the more they will want to write about you and the more coverage you will get. Conversely, if an athlete storms through a mixed zone with a face of thunder, it’s not going to give the best impression to the sribes who were patiently waiting to speak to them. Everyone has a bad race once in a while, but a simple “not today thanks” can help get the message across to the press in a polite way.

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