Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems (Swing et al., 2010)

This is what I will be doing during the summer

News about a study from Pediatrics has reach my inbox and is very likely to generate some talk amongst everyone since it’s authored by the people at Iowa State University. The study is about television and media use and its role in the development of attention problems.


Objectives Television viewing has been associated with greater subsequent attention problems in children. Few studies have examined the possibility of a similar association between video games and attention problems, and none of these has used a longitudinal design.

Methods A sample of 1323 middle childhood participants were assessed during a 13-month period by parent- and child-reported television and video game exposure as well as teacher-reported attention problems. Another sample of 210 late adolescent/early adult participants provided self-reports of television exposure, video game exposure, and attention problems.

Results Exposure to television and video games was associated with greater attention problems. The association of television and video games to attention problems in the middle childhood sample remained significant when earlier attention problems and gender were statistically controlled. The associations of screen media and attention problems were similar across media type (television or video games) and age (middle childhood or late adolescent/early adult).

Conclusions Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood. Research on potential risk factors for attention problems should be expanded to include video games in addition to television.

C. Shawn Green was interviewed by CNN and he had some reservations about the study. “The question, then, is why are they able to pay attention to a game but not in school? What expectancies have the games set up that aren’t being delivered in a school setting?” A partial answer can come from that video from Phil Zimbardo (start at 6:00) .

I’ll just fill in some missing details.



Television and video games exposure: Participants were asked how many hours they were exposed at certain time periods during the weekdays and weekends. So, how many hours they played in the morning (6AM to 12 PM), afternoon (12 PM to 6 PM), evening (6 PM to 12 AM) and night (12 AM to 6 AM).

Attention problems:

  • Teacher-report: 3 items answered on a 5-point scale. What? That’s it for the longitudinal study?
  • As for the other sample: a composite from three self-report measures: the adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Brief Self-Control Scale, and the Barrat Impulsiveness Scale. A bit better, but it’s too bad it wasn’t used for the first sample.


I once heard from a recent PhD that different fields, like psychology versus psychiatry, have different standards in statistical analyses and mental health journals demand comparatively simple statistics, something that PhD find it discouraging since he has to redo his analyses and interpretation.

Swing and company have found some small to moderate correlation with media exposure and attention problems (ranging from r = .17 to .23). I see that the journal use the confidence interval, instead of the p value.

They did a logistic regression by comparing two groups: one group that did not exceed the two hour daily limit of media use, set by the American Academy of Pediatrics,  versus those that exceeded it. They found the latter group (in both samples) were more likely to develop attention problems. That’s a bad swing at data (okay, that’s a horrible pun…). Maybe they should readjust the dichotomy a bit, say comparing those who played more than 3 hours versus less than 3 hours, just out of curiosity.

Their results on the university aged-group (that smaller sample) showed that age, nor gender was associated with attention problems. Media use was associated with attention problems.

Okay now on to the longitudinal results: controlling for gender and grade level and other details by co-varying the variables. They created four models with different predictor variables: (1) total media use (combined variable), (2) television use, (3), video game use, (4) television use and video game use (as separate variables).

All models showed that time 1 attention problems was a significant predictor, showing that attention problems is stable across time. Besides that, television and video game use was associated with attention problems across time. Model 4 showed that video games was a stronger predictor than television, despite the fact that they watched more television than video games (although, I’d wish they showed the standard deviations).

“To further illustrate the association of television and video game exposure on later attention problems, we generated a maximum likelihood structural equation model.” A brief seizure ensued…

Do you understand this? I don't.

I reduced their important points as greater time spent on video games is associated with greater attention problems (of course, that is if you exceeded the two hour limit). Second, video games effect is similar to that of television. Third, existing attention problems isn’t the culprit, can’t blame it for children with these problems being attracted to media. Fourth, the effects are seen across ages up until freshman year.

Limitations: That teacher-report is something to swing at. They should’ve measure other forms of media, like cell phone use or listening to music. It’s correlation, hence their careful wording in not pointing as a causal relationship. Unknown third variables may be at work. The television and video game use questionnaire used questions that are global, so it’s unknowable if certain content in television and video games may have a stronger effect on attention or not.

Okay, I’m goofing off now…

Swing, E. L., Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., & Walsh, D. A. (2010) Television and video game exposure and the development of attention problems. Pediatrics, doi:10.1542/peds.2009-1508.


9 thoughts on “Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems (Swing et al., 2010)

  1. Pingback: Η μεγάλη δύναμη φέρνει και μεγάλη ευθύνη « Thinking gamer’s Βlog

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