It’s not what you play, it’s how long you do it for. . .

Children who play computer games for more than three hours a day are more likely to be hyperactive, not interested in school and get involved in fights, suggests a new study.

University of Oxford researchers looked at the effects of different types of games – and the time spent playing them – on social and academic behaviour.

They found that the time playing games could be linked with problem behaviour, but that there was no link between violent games and real-life aggression or a child’s academic performance.

The researchers relied on teachers’ assessments of behaviour of 12 and 13-year-olds at a school in the southeast of England. Teachers reported whether the 200 pupils in the study group were helpful, their academic achievements, and whether they were rowdy or likely to get into fights.

These assessments were matched with the responses to a questionnaire that asked each of the pupils how long they played games each day, and the type of games they preferred.

The study found that no game features could be linked with any negative patterns of behaviour, but that children who played video games with a cooperative and competitive element had significantly fewer emotional problems or problems with peers.

Children who chose to play solitary games were found to do well academically and not to get involved in fights.

The paper, How the Quantity and Quality of Electronic Gaming Relates to Adolescents Academic Engagement and Psychosocial Adjustment, is published in the journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Lead author Dr Andy Przybylski, from the University of Oxford Internet Institute, said: “We can see links between some types of games and children’s behaviour, as well as time spent playing. However, we cannot say that game play causes good or bad behaviour.

“We also know that the risks attached to game-playing are small. A range of other factors in a child’s life will influence their behaviour more, as this research suggests that playing electronic games may be a statistically significant but minor factor in how children progress academically or on their emotional wellbeing.”

Co-author Allison Mishkin said: “These results highlight that playing video games may just be another style of play that children engage with in the digital age, with the benefits felt from the act of playing rather than the medium itself being the significant factor.”