A study by two psychologists has found that videogame addicts show some of the same characteristics as people with Aspergers syndrome.
The findings of the two psychologists, Dr John Charlton of the University of Bolton and Ian Danforth of Whitman College, USA, are scheduled to be presented to the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Dublin today.
The research sampled 391 gamers, 86% of whom were male. The Daily Mail reports†
that they were all players of fantasy MMO, Asheron's Call
from Turbine. Before we go any further, SPOnG would like to point out that a sample made up entirely of MMO players is not necessarily representative of all gamers, just as a sample made up strictly of DS players wouldn't be. It is also not explained whether the results were taken from a study done over time or from a one-off look at the participants.
While the study found traits of the syndrome, however, the researchers clarified that they believe none of those who participated were classifiable as having Aspergers.
According to The Daily Mail, 3% of those studied show signs of addiction.
An announcement of the findings tells us, “They found that the closer the players got to addiction the more likely they were to display negative personality traits. And that as players showed more signs of addiction they were increasingly characterised by three personality traits that would normally be associated with Aspergers, a variety of high functioning autism. These were neuroticism, and lack of extroversion and agreeableness.”
If you're wondering what exactly Aspergers Syndrome is, the National Autistic Society characterises it as “a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a 'spectrum disorder' because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.”
Dr Charlton commented, “The thinking in the field is that there is a scale along which people, even those considered to be ‘normal’, can be placed upon. And that people such as engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists are nearer to the non-empathising, systemising, end of the spectrum, with people with Aspergers syndrome even further along again.
“Our research supports the idea that people who are heavily involved in game playing may be nearer to autistic spectrum disorders than people who have no interest in gaming.”
Charlton has had a number of articles and studies published relating to people's interaction with technology. You can see his credentials here
The mainstream, predictably, has jumped on the issue. “If you can't stop playing computer games, be careful. Doctors say it could give you the same highly negative character traits associated with a form of autism”, reports the Daily Mail.
Let's compare that to the actual wording of the official announcement - “People who are addicted to playing computer games show some of the same personality traits as people with Aspergers syndrome.” The Mail has managed to jump to the conclusion that because game players display the traits, games cause them.
While the psychologists have said that the subjects of the study are not actually classifiable as having the syndrome, an explanation of the possible causes of Asperger's Syndrome – the exact cause remains unknown – makes for interesting reading. The National Autistic Society says, “research suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for changes in brain development.” Maybe the Mail is jumping ahead of itself on the chicken and egg question? Surely it's far more likely that those with autistic traits are drawn into games to the point of addiction, rather than addicts becoming autistic. †Source: The Daily Mail