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15 September 2016

The Power of Play: Video Games Can Reduce Anxiety in Children

Keywords: education, games, intervention, Western Europe, kids,

The video game MindLight can succesfully decrease anxiety symptoms in children, a study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior shows. Surprisingly, this study shows that anxiety symptoms decreased not only among children who played MindLight, but also among children who played the commercial video game Max and the Magic Marker.

Take aways

  • Playing video games can decrease anxiety in children.
  • Video games that are specifically designed to decrease anxiety by integrating clinical techniques (MindLight) as well as commercial video games (Max) seem to have the potential to reduce anxiety in children. 
  • Both types of video games might have taught children how to deal with problems and to show perseverance in the face of failure. 
  • For prevention and intervention developers, it is important to know that video games can be a promising method to decrease anxiety in children. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Can video games (MindLight) decrease anxiety levels in children?

  • Who?

    136 children with elevated anxiety symptoms (age range: 8-13; mean age: 9.95; 55% girls)

  • Where?

    The southeast of the Netherlands

  • How?

    All children were asked to indicate how anxious they were three days before they started playing the game (pretest). Three days later, children began to play the videogames. Half of the children were assigned to play MindLight, a video game that was specifically designed to reduce anxiety symptoms based on clinical techniques for anxiety reduction, and the other half was assigned to play Max and the Magic Marker (Max), an exciting commercial game that was not specifically developed to reduce anxiety. The children played their video game five times for one hour, scheduled twice a week. Three days later (posttest) and three months later (follow-up), the children again indicated how anxious they were. 

Facts and findings

  • The children who played MindLight were less anxious immediately after playing the video game and at three-month follow-up. 
  • However, the children who played Max also reported to have less anxiety symptoms after playing the video game and at follow-up. 
  • Children in both game groups showed improvements on anxiety by the 3-month follow-up. The authors gave the following explanation for this finding: In both games, perseverance in the face of failure is encouraged and solving problems is rewarded. Also, playing both games for a whole hour reinforced perseverance, which may have provided a sense of coping and mastery, in turn decreasing feelings of anxiety. 
  • Interesting finding. Not only the children reported a decrease in anxiety, also their parents noticed that their children became less anxious. 
  • Critical note. The Mindlight intervention was not compared to a no-intervention control group, thereby limiting the ability to conclude that playing the video game was more effective in decreasing anxiety symptoms than no intervention at all.