Daily Violent Video Game Playing and Depression in Preadolescent Youth

Published in: Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, v. 17, no. 9, Sep. 2014, p. 609-615

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Susan R. Tortolero, Melissa F. Peskin, Elizabeth R. Baumler, Paula Cuccaro, Marc N. Elliott, Susan L. Davies, Terri Lewis, Stephen W. Banspach, David E. Kanouse, Mark A. Schuster

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Research Question

  1. Is violent video game playing over the past year associated with more depressive symptoms among preadolescent youth?

Most studies on the impact of playing violent video games on mental health have focused on aggression. Relatively few studies have examined the relationship between playing violent video games and depression, especially among preadolescent youth. In this study, we investigated whether daily violent video game playing over the past year is associated with a greater number of depressive symptoms among preadolescent youth, after controlling for several well-known correlates of depression among youth. We analyzed cross-sectional data collected from 5,147 fifth-grade students and their primary caregivers who participated in Wave I (2004–2006) of Healthy Passages, a community-based longitudinal study conducted in three U.S. cities. Linear regression was conducted to determine the association between violent video game exposure and number of depressive symptoms, while controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, peer victimization, witnessing violence, being threatened with violence, aggression, family structure, and household income level. We found that students who reported playing high-violence video games for ≥2 hours per day had significantly more depressive symptoms than those who reported playing low-violence video games for <2 hours per day (p<0.001). The magnitude of this association was small (Cohen's d=0.16), but this association was consistent across all racial/ethnic subgroups and among boys (Cohen's d values ranged from 0.12 to 0.25). Our findings indicate that there is an association between daily exposure to violent video games and number of depressive symptoms among preadolescent youth. More research is needed to examine this association and, if confirmed, to investigate its causality, persistence over time, underlying mechanisms, and clinical implications.

Key Findings

  • Playing high-violence video games for 2 hours or more per day is significantly associated with having more depressive symptoms.
  • This finding holds for all racial/ethnic groups and among boys, who are more likely than girls to play such games.


Substantial use of high-violence videogames among preadolescent youth should be monitored as a marker and/or possible risk factor for depression.

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