Ellen Jackson:
I am delighted today to have with me research professor of psychology at Boston College, Peter Gray, who is speaking to us from Massachusetts in the United States. It's the very beginning of his Thursday, it's the very end of mine. Peter is the author of both the widely used introductory psychology text book: Psychology, which is now in its 7th edition, and Free To Learn: Why Unleashing The Instinct To Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Students For Life.

Ellen Jackson:
Peter writes a popular blog for Psychology Today called Freedom To Learn. He's frequently invited to speak to groups of educators, parents and researchers about children's needs for play. The psychological damage inflicted on children through our present methods of schooling, and the ways in which children are designed by natural selection to control their own education.

Ellen Jackson:
Peter is a founder and president of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. He's also a founder and board member of Let Grow, which is dedicated to renewing children's freedom to play and explore outdoors in public spaces without continuous adult supervision, which is a topic close to my heart as well. There are many, many things that I'd love to talk to Peter about today, but we're narrowing it down to internet and video gaming and what the evidence tells us about the impact of these on our kids. Welcome Peter.

Peter Gray:
Glad to be here.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm very excited to be able to speak to you today. I discovered you through a bit of internet research, which is my way, and a blog post that you wrote for your blog on Psychology Today called Sense and Nonsense About Video Game Addiction. It really struck a chord with me, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to have a chat to you about what is the sense and, perhaps the nonsense? And maybe offer a different perspective on video games and what the evidence tells us about its effect on our kids. I'm interested to know, what got you interested in this particular topic?

Peter Gray:
I got interested beginning maybe seven or eight years ago. I give a lot of talks to groups, educators, parents and so on, about the value of play and as your intro noted, I am an advocate of outdoor play and so on. So one would think I would be in the camp of being against video games because they're indoors. A lot of people think that this is one of the reasons kids are not outdoors as much as they used to be, because they're attracted to video games. I would give these talks about the value of play based on my research and other people's research, and talk about the harm of the fact that young people today have much less opportunity for free play of all sorts, but especially free play outdoors away from adults than in the past. I believe that they are suffering as a result of that in many, many ways and have written about this both in academic articles and for the popular press.

Peter Gray:
Generally speaking, after I give my talk, the first question asked is, "Well, what about video games?" Well, to be honest, when people began to ask that question, I knew very little about video games. I'm not a video game player myself. My son grew up playing video games, he's a big advocate for them. I don't see that it did him any great harm. But I'm a scientist so I don't go just on the basis of a case history. So I began to say, "Well, these people are asking me an honest question. I'm a scientist, a researcher, at minimum I ought to be able to go and look at the research literature. What does the research literature actually say?"

Peter Gray:
Before I did that, I did an internet search. Internet search: what are the effects of video games on children? And I found all these terrible things, that video games are.... supposedly do. Practically every malady that children suffer from today, somebody's blaming video games on it. Obesity, social isolation, minds turning to mush, ADHD, addiction to the games, violence and so on and so forth. All these, what I finally came to the conclusion, are myths about the effects of video games. So I'd read these blog posts, these popular articles and so on, and what I would do is I'd say, "Well, are they actually citing any evidence? What's the evidence that they're citing? Is there research here supporting what they're claiming?"

Peter Gray:
Very often, as journalists do, what they cite is some case example. So there's a case example of some school shooter who played video games. Well, do most school shooters play video games? Or do they play video games more than non school shooters? Practically all young males play video games these days, so not surprising that those who are school shooters might play them too. So I looked at... so that's the kind of thing I looked up. Basically what I found is, once I started to look at the actual scientific literature, the results are far more positive than negative. [crosstalk 00:05:46]-

Ellen Jackson:
Which is the surprise. We don't expect that.

Peter Gray:
We don't expect that, and there's lot's of research. It's not that there's a paucity of research. The real research is looking at both correlations and experimental studies, have led me to think that, in a sense, video games are sort of the saving grace. We've pretty much prevented children from adventures outdoors, and that's a shame, that's terrible that we have. At least they can have adventures in the virtual world. We've more or less prevented children from getting together with other children out in the real world away from adults, but they can do so online unless we take that computer away from them.

Peter Gray:
It's so sad that parents are, many parents, are now doing that. They're taking their computer away, they're limiting video play and so on. Basically what I found, I ended up... I think it was way back in 2012 I wrote my first blog post called The Many Benefits of Video Games, in which I went through what all the myths are, and I showed what the data showed, which are quite the reverse. That was when I first got started. I've since written several other blog posts. I think I've done a total of five blog posts on video play.

Peter Gray:
It's interesting that I present these talks, these radical talks, about how school is harmful for children and children should be out playing instead of school. I don't get much flak from that, but when I talk about the positive effects of video games, everybody wants to argue with me.

Ellen Jackson:
Which is... it's interesting, isn't it? I'm intrigued to take a little sidestep just for a moment around... so you were talking about the fact that as a society... and I don't think Australia is, probably, vastly different from the US in this, that we are... have kind of set up scenarios that prevent kids from playing outdoors and therefore now, can we look at video games as an alternative or a substitute for what they get from that. What is it, I know this is a whole other topic that we could talk about... what are the things that we've done, really, to prevent kids from playing outdoors?

Peter Gray:
I think it is pretty much similar in Australia to the United States. My research is in the United States, but I actually gave a couple of speaking tours in Australia. The people I talked to in Australia tell me it's pretty much the same thing there. Same thing in the UK, certainly. Less so in some of the other European countries. Basically there are a number of... one is, increased weight of schooling; schooling has just become a bigger deal than it used to be, even elementary school kids have homework these days. This wasn't true when I was a kid, we didn't have homework. When we were off from school, we were off from school. We played.

Peter Gray:
Some of us had chores, but even that we did in a playful way. We had lots of time to... we had much longer summer vacations. In the US the summer vacation period was five weeks longer when I was a kid than it is today. The school day was an hour shorter than it is today. We had, in elementary school when I was a kid, two out of the six hour school day, two hours were outside playing. We had half hour recess in the middle of morning, in the middle of the afternoon full hour at lunch. We were never in our seats for more than an hour at a time.

Peter Gray:
Compare that to kids today, I hear from parents who's... who are kindergarten kids and first grade kids who have a total of 15 minutes recess per day. This is child abuse in my opinion. This is absolutely child abuse. So we've done this in schools. We've made school... we've convinced... we've sort of brainwashed parents into thinking that school is so important and those tests are so important, and that that's more important than play. As part of this, we've more or less brainwashed parents into believing that adult directed school-like activities outside of school are more valuable than free play; kids are just wasting their time if they're not in some kind of adult directed activity. Especially from middle class families and above, when the kids are not in school, they're driving the kids around to one activity after another, and that, or course, inhibits free play.

Peter Gray:
So that's part of it. And then the other part of it is partly because of the media that delights in telling us whenever some terrible thing happens to any child in the world, we all believe that it's terribly dangerous out there for children. That if we let a child out of our sight, they will be snatched away by some child predator. We've developed the view that it is actually irresponsible parenting to not have... be monitoring your child all the time. When I was a kid, I write about this in my book Free to learn, when I was five years old I could go anywhere in town by myself. With my six year old friend, I could even ride my bike out of town because my six year old friend was mature, and she would take care of me.

Peter Gray:
This was the normal parenting back in the 1950's. Now people don't let 14 years old kids go off by themselves anymore. In the United states, even if parents do, there's more and more of a sense that if there's a child out there loose, a loose child out there, you call the police or you... this actually does happen. It's just amazing the change that's occurred. It's occurred gradually. This isn't a sudden change, but it's occurred gradually since about the 1950s we've been gradually taking children's freedom away. I say those are the primary things.

Peter Gray:
There are a lot of other things, the fact that people don't know their neighbors as much as they used. This is in part because both the moms, the dads work, so nobody's home. Therefore, the neighborhoods.... most moms and dads spend more time at work than in the past. You don't see people, adults, puttering around out in the yard where they get to know one another and therefore their kids... they know that the neighbor's not a child molester because this is somebody they've chatted with.

Peter Gray:
So we don't know our neighbors. We have this incredible fear for the future. We fear two things about our children: One is that they'll be snatched away by a predator, secondly, that they'll grow up homeless if they don't get into some fancy college. We have become convinced that to get into some fancy college, they've got to be spending all their time building a resume. So they've got to do well in school, they've got to do all these formal extracurricular activities, so called volunteer activities, which they're more or less forced into; this is not really volunteer where they're doing it for their-

Ellen Jackson:
Parents are volunteering them.

Peter Gray:
[crosstalk 00:13:25] go onto their college resume, that they did this or that good deed kind of activity. Children are pushed into these kinds of things and they don't have time and opportunity to be children any more. So that's the sad thing. The other thing I might say is that, in terms of this idea that it's computers and video play that is the problem, that this is seducing children away from the outdoors, which so many people believe, there was actually a poll a number of years ago sponsored by Ikea foundation, by Ikea, in which they actually surveyed children, all of whom had computers because the survey was done by computer. What they asked is: right now, if you had a choice between going out to play in the park with your friends or playing your favorite computer game, which would you choose? Something like 85% said they would prefer to be out playing in the park with their friends, but that was not an option for them.

Peter Gray:
We want to blame computer play... we want to blame computer games, when we really need to be blaming ourselves. We have created a world in which children are simply not free to go out and play with other children as they so desire to do.

Ellen Jackson:
And it's our responsibility, or our fault, for want of a better term, as parents as a collective who have created this. And what are the consequences for kids of this lack of opportunity to play freely? Outdoors, I suppose to start with, and then we'll get onto the gaming side of things.

Peter Gray:
Well, this is something I've written about. I have an article in American journal of play called The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in children and adolescents. The basic finding is this, that over the last five or six decades, there has been a continuous, gradual, but overall huge decline in children's freedom to just go out and play and explore. Over this same period, over these same decades, there's been a gradual but overall huge increase of all sorts of mental disorders of childhood.

Peter Gray:
It's especially well documented in the United States for depression and anxiety. There are certain clinical questionnaires that assess depression and anxiety in school-age children and in adolescents, which have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of children over the decades. If you look at those questionnaires, you look at what would be the cut off point for diagnosis by today's criteria of major depressive disorder, or of a clinically significant anxiety disorder, what you find is that the rate of depression and anxiety at a clinically significant level, is somewhere between five and ten times today what it was in the 1950s. This has been a continuous increase.

Peter Gray:
The suicide rate among children, school aged children, is now six time what it was in the 1950s. So by various... creativity has gone down. There's actually a valid assessment, believe it or not, for creativity that has been used from several decades, and at least since the mid-1980s. At all grade levels of school... for school children, creativity has been going down at least since then. All of these are exactly what you would predict if you take play away from children and you put them more and more into adult directed activities and, I might add, adult judged activities, which are by nature, anxiety provoking, stressful.

Peter Gray:
School is becoming more and more stressful as we put more and more weight on testing. Even the out of school things, if you're not just going out to play your own game but you're on some kind of a formal team, there's the anxiety, "Will I make the team? Will I make the cut? Will we win our trophy? It's my fault if we... if i mess up and we lose the game." Instead of just being out there for fun-

Ellen Jackson:
There's performance pressure.

Peter Gray:
... you're out there under pressured circumstances, then we wonder why the anxiety rate is so high among children.

Ellen Jackson:
So we've taken away the opportunity for kids to play outdoors. And you're arguing that, for kids, what gaming provides them is an opportunity to engage in that same level of play. I have to say that I have a ten year old son who does play internet games. For him, the draw card is the social connection. He's a social kids. When I've asked him what does he love about playing Fortnite for example, it's that he gets to spend time with his friends for the same reason he's enjoying other forms of online activity where he can actually chat to and engage with his friends.

Ellen Jackson:
The gaming is potentially giving him opportunity to, perhaps, develop some of those skills or have those experiences that they're not able to get outdoors. Yet, as parents, we're struggling with the gaming thing, should we allow it? Do what extent do we allow it? And we worry about the impacts, yeah?

Peter Gray:
That's right. One of the questions is, does internet gaming have the same positive consequences as outdoor free play? So I've looked at that question. I would never argue that this is a good total substitute for outdoor free play, there's just so many things you can do outdoors. There's so many forms of play. And of course there's the physical exercise, the building of heart and lungs and movement and all of this that we're missing if we're only playing indoors. I might add that, everything that you say along that line that's negative about video gaming is probably more true for reading, let's say. Yet, you rarely find parents who complain about their children's reading. And there are children who read all the time, always have been, and generally those kids are admired. People don't say...

Peter Gray:
We get all upset about the sedentary aspect of video play, but reading is actually more sedentary. We get upset... some people think about video play... initially it was a little socially isolating, but now the games, as you say, are socially connecting. You're connecting online with other kids. Video play is way more social than reading. On the face of... and video play is very creative. There's all kinds of opportunity for creativity. You're figuring out strategies, you're figuring out ways to beat the system, and the games are increasingly complex; they are intellectually difficult, they are challenging. All these things would seem to speak in favor.

Peter Gray:
There was actually a study done by Columbia university two or three years ago of... it was sort of a survey study of over 3000 children between the age of six and twelve. They looked at how many hours a week each child was playing. They interviewed the parents to get this information, how many hours a week the child was playing video games. Independently of that, using both teach... parents ratings and teachers ratings, they assessed the degree to which the children were regarded as socially competent, as emotionally mature, as anxious or depressed, as doing well in school interestingly.

Peter Gray:
The result was... they didn't break it down, as far as I know, further than this, but the main finding that was published was that those children who played five hours a week or more of video games play, on every single measure, were doing better than the kids who were playing less than five hours a week. They didn't look at, what if you're playing 40 hours a week? They didn't look at that, which would be an interesting question to ask. The fact of the matter is, if you're playing five hours or more, you are doing better than five hours less.

Peter Gray:
The lesson from that to parents is, if you're depriving your children of playing video games, you are putting them in the category where they're less likely to be socially competent. Less likely to do well in school. Less likely... and so on and so forth. To me, it's not surprising. In this day and age, you could almost say that the person... the kid who's not playing video games is, maybe, going to be a kind of social isolate. This is what kids talk about, especially boys, at school. When they get together in physical reality, they're talking about the video games.

Peter Gray:
So if you're not playing video games, you're not in that group, right? So you're going to be somewhat socially isolated.

Ellen Jackson:
I know that's something that parents say they struggle with, is that their kids are telling me, "Everybody else is online. Everybody else is allowed to play. If I don't play, then I'm not going to have any friends. I'm not going to be accepted by my peers, all of that." Which, again, then the parents are feeling this tension between, for all these reasons that are perpetuated, perhaps, by the media, are not necessarily really explored in any depth from a scientific point of view. I feel like this is the wrong thing to allow them to do, and yet they're nagging me and it creates that tension and that conflict inside houses and homes.

Peter Gray:
Right. Right.

Ellen Jackson:
Peter, there was a headline a couple of years ago now, that indicated – and I don't have the exact words in front of me – it was a long the lines of why you're child's brain on Minecraft like your child's brain on crack. Or something to that effect. This is what your child's brain looks like on Minecraft. It was trying to draw some parallels, or it did claim some parallels between the effect of video games on a child's brain and the effects of elicit drugs on a child's brain for example. What was wrong with that headline and that story?

Peter Gray:
This is an example of the sort of extreme panic-y headline that is really unconscionable that this would... both on the part of the author of that article, who was somebody who's written a book on... who's a clinical psychologist who had written a book on the horrid effects of video games in his opinions, based on his clinical observations. He wrote this book and the headline of the article... I don't know if this was his choice of the headline or the New York post, which published the article. But the headline was in big letters: Digital Heroin. Digital heroin. So you let your child play video games, it's like letting them take heroin.

Peter Gray:
I had read this kind of thing before. The primary evidence that people used when they want to make that claim comes from brain imaging studies. There's ways in which you can look at the person's brain while they're doing various things, so you can examine the brain while they're playing video games. The technology for this is sort of overrated. You have to do this many times and average it out. There's a certain amount of fudging that can go into the results, to be honest. I used to do brain research.

Peter Gray:
What the popular reader doesn't know is that this is not terribly precise technology. But let's say that, in fact, the results are valid from the research studies. What the finding is, that people point to when they make headlines like that, is that there's certain areas of the brain, we could call them pleasure areas of a brain, right? These are the areas of the brain that get activated when you're feeling pleasure about something. They are, not surprisingly, they're activated by drugs like heroin. Drugs act on them artificially. They act by directly affecting those parts of the brain.

Peter Gray:
The normal function of those parts of the brain is that they mediate the pleasure of things that we do in life. We enjoy eating good food, if we enjoy sex, if we enjoy a video games, those parts of brain are going to be active. So, low and behold, somebody observed, okay, those pleasure centers get activated when kids are playing video games. Those are the same parts that get activated when you take heroin. They're not pointing out that they're also activated if you eat a bite of pizza, all these other things.

Peter Gray:
In no way are they being stimulated in the same way that if you take heroin. With heroin, you're flooding that system artificially. You're producing... somebody wrote, I don't know on what basis, but on researcher said, there's at least ten times the amount of release of dopamine in those parts of brain, which is the transmitter release by those parts of the brain, in response to a drug that you're taking, as it occurs when you're playing a video games. I don't know how they estimated that to be honest. It may just be a guess.

Peter Gray:
Nevertheless, to say that because you see that part of the brain lighting up when you're playing video games is only to say the kid is enjoying video games. If we were to deprive our children of everything that lights up that part of the brain, we would be saying our children aren't allowed to do anything that's fun. This is just-

Ellen Jackson:
We're not allowed to hug them or do any go those things that would also activate those areas of the brain.

Peter Gray:
Right. This is just silly. It's a way of scaring parents. It effectively does scare parents. I just think it's unconscionable. I think it's unconscionable on the part of the media that they're not checking this and it's even more unconscionable on the part of the researchers that they are not... who should know better, that they are not responding to these kinds of headlines, by telling the facts about it. This is no way [inaudible 00:29:06] that playing a video games is like taking heroin.

Ellen Jackson:
So we've established that, that... the fact that there's a correlation between an activity and what lights up in our brain is not causation. It doesn't mean that we're necessarily causing our children harm, that they're brains are being caused any harm by the action of undertaking video games. What does your kids brain look like when they're playing? What are the effects that are taking place for kids? Do we know what they are, and do we know if they're bad or good or indifferent?

Peter Gray:
Yeah, there actually have been quite a number of brain studies using the same technology that I just described. There have been a couple of scientific reviews of the studies. There was one published in the journal called Frontiers of Neuroscience recently, reviewed something like 120 studies, mostly correlational studies, but also some experimental studies. What the general finding is, is it's not just those pleasure centers that get... that light you when you're playing video games, it's other parts of the brain that would not get lit up from taking heroin. Parts of the brain that are involved in thinking. Parts of the brain that are involved in perception. Parts of the brain that are involved in making quick judgments.

Peter Gray:
Everything that we do, mental of course, involves the brain. Every time you experience something, it's because the brain is doing something. So not unsurprisingly, what the research has shown is that, if you're playing a video game, if involved making quick judgements, those parts of the brain that are involved in making judgments are activated. If you're playing a video game that involves being able to hold a lot of information in memory, those parts of brain that are involved in that... if you're playing a game that involves good spacial cognition the... there's a part of the brain called the hippocampus which is involved in spacial cognition, this gets activated.

Peter Gray:
There are even studies showing that, for people who play a lot of video games, certain parts of the brain that are involved in the kinds of activities that are involved in those... that activate those parts of the brain, actually grow. The brain is sort of like a muscle. If you use it, the parts that you use, grow. Physically grow. They become bigger to help you do better at that. This has been known for a long time. Many. Many years ago there was a.... one of the first studies was of London taxi drivers back before they had GPSs and they had to be able to hold in their mind the whole visual picture of all of London and how to get from any place to any place else in the most efficient way.

Peter Gray:
They had to be able to pass tests showing that they could do this. Turns out that they had larger hippocampuses in their brain, the part of the brain that's involved in that. There was evidence that it's not that people with large hippocampuses became taxi drivers, but that that part of the brain actually grew as a result of being a taxi driver. Not surprisingly, kids who play a lot of video games that involve spacial organization, that same part of the brain grows. They become good at spacial organization, in part, because of the growth of that part of the brain, similarly with other parts of the brain.

Peter Gray:
These a lot of research that shows that. Unfortunately, the way that this gets interpreted by the popular press is, oh my gosh! Playing video games messes up the brain. Muddles up the brain. It has an effect on the brain. Most people, intuitively think, well, if it has an effect on the brain, it must be a harmful effect. But, in fact, this could only be interpreted as a positive effect. It's growing the brain. It's growing parts of brain that are useful for doing certain kinds of tasks. The other thing is, there's a lot of research by now. There are hundreds of studies that show various positive cognitive benefits applying video games.

Peter Gray:
I said I don't play video games but some people are recommending that, by the time you reach my age, it would be a good idea to start playing video games to preserve that memory ability as you grow older, to preserve the ability to make judgments and so on. There's good evidence that it does help forestall the declining effects of old age on the brain [inaudible 00:33:56]. There's a lot of studies that show various kinds of cognitive tests. The same kind of tests that you would find in IQ tests are improved by playing video games, and they're improved in a long term way. Not just that you're better at the very specific thing that the video... that you're doing on the video games, you're better in general on spacial cognition, or in general about holding a lot of information in your mind.

Peter Gray:
One of the initial studies was one that... simply correlation, the finding was that people who play a lot of video games, on average, have higher IQs than people who don't play video games so much. That was the initial observation. Is this just a correlation? Maybe people with high IQs are drawn to video games. They're intellectually challenging, so you're drawn to it. People who have lower IQs find it frustrating to play the games, so they don't play it.

Peter Gray:
But another possibility, probably both of these are true. Another possibility it that playing video games actually builds IQ. They've done many experimental studies where you take kids who... you take young people, oftentimes these are college students, and most often they're women because it's hard to find male college students who don't already play video games.

Ellen Jackson:
Haven't already been doing it for years.

Peter Gray:
Okay. So you find young women who don't play video games, you assign some of them to play a certain video a certain number of hours a week whether they want to or not. You've got to play this game if you're in this experiment. Then they test them before and after and they have a control group who's doing something else. Low and behold, on various cognitive tests these people now do better as a result of playing the video games. Those in the control condition are not doing better. And it lasts. Even if they don't continue to play the video game, several weeks later, they're tested again, and they're still doing well on that cognitive test.

Peter Gray:
Presumably, because that part of the brain developed in a way that is long lasting and continuing to have effect. The initial study, which was kind of an interesting one actually, many years ago, was college women... there's one kind of IQ-like test. It's the only one I know of in which men and boys on average to better than women and girls. It's a test of spatial cognition. You may have seen these tests, you rotate objects in your mind-

Ellen Jackson:
[crosstalk 00:36:32] blocks.

Peter Gray:
Yeah. Although I'm a male, I do terribly on these things. I probably [crosstalk 00:36:39]-

Ellen Jackson:
I have a sister who does... did exceptionally well I group up as a trainee psychologist having to test my family and friends on these sorts of IQ tests. I did test my sister, who is a graphic designer, so I think she... there's clearly something in there. She did... she nailed that test.

Peter Gray:
She did well on it. So in general, males do better than females on this test. Somebody did an experiment in which they said, "Well, what if we have women... female college students who don't play video games, play this... " It was actually just a... the worst game for women to play. A first person shooter game. But it does involve spatial organization. You've got to be able to quickly locate where you're going to do the shooting. And low and behold, initially these young women, on average, scored lower than the average score for men at the same university. Half the women were in the video game condition, half were in another condition. Tested them afterwards, and those who were in the video game condition now scored equivalently to the men at the college. Those in the other condition didn't.

Peter Gray:
That was one of the first studies. Here was a sex difference in spatial cognition that some people believe is the result of biology of... the argument is that men were hunters and they had to know... keep track of space and women were around camp and they had to be able to keep track of details but not spatial organization so much. So this is an inherent difference.

Peter Gray:
But these researchers said, "Maybe this is not an inherent difference. It's maybe a difference due to the fact that boys tend to do different kinds of things from girls when they're growing up. So maybe those parts of the brain grow." One of the things in this day and age that boys, at least at that time, were doing more than girls, was playing video games. "So let's do this study." Low and behold it came out the way they predicted.

Ellen Jackson:
Yeah. So this begs the question, if we have increasing evidence that there are benefits – certainly in terms of some cognition benefits, skill development benefits, whatever the flow on effects might be – that video games are actually helping to enhance these things – and there isn't really as much evidence as, perhaps, we thought or as people might expect that there is harm being done by video games, at least across the board; We can't say that's the case, probably, for everybody, but across the board – why are we so terrified of them?

Peter Gray:
Yeah. This is not new. I think probably throughout history, at least throughout modern history, whenever there's a new technology, the older generation fears that and the younger generation gravitates to it. I've read that when the printing press was developed and especially when it became possible to print inexpensive novels, that the older generation thought, this is just going to be the end of the world because now the young people are going to be reading these novels, women are going to be reading romance novels, morals will be corrupted.

Peter Gray:
When I was a kid, it was television had come around. There were people who feared that all the radiation from television was going to ruin the brain, and sitting there watching television was going to be terribly harmful for people. There were also, around that time, there were these superhero comics that had a lot of supposed violence in them, and this was going to make young people violent, gro up violent. It's just always been. Whatever comes around, the kids gravitate to it. Whatever the new music is, oh gosh, this is... so this has always been true.

Peter Gray:
I read some place that, back in Greek and Roman times, people like Plato were complaining about the corrupting effect of poetry on young children's minds. This is part... also though, I think that... so parents see... in a way I'm sympathetic with this; parents see their young child spending hours a day maybe, sitting in front of that screen, and it looks like they're doing nothing, right? What are they doing? This isn't what I did as a kid. It's kind of understandable that you would get worried about that. I think that you don't really know what's going on with the child, you don't know what's going on in their mind.

Peter Gray:
The other thing I hear from parents all the time... I shouldn't say, all the time, but quite often is, so some parent will say, "What I see as I watch my child play this video game is, I see him sometimes getting angry. This can't be healthy that he's getting angry." I think that one of the sad things about video play is, because it's indoors, parents can watch it. If the kid's playing outdoors, the kid also gets angry. Getting angry is part of play. It's part of your learning how to deal with anger. You're putting yourself in situations where you get angry at your playmates, you get bullied a little bit, and you bully and you learn how to deal with that because there's no adults around to watch you.

Peter Gray:
Now we've got adults around watching you all the time, judging your reactions, getting worried if you're showing emotion for god’s sake. I hear parents saying, "I know that this video playing is not good for my child because I've seen my child getting angry while doing it. The kid wants to keep playing but I know that it's not good for my child." So that's part of the problem. Then, of course, once this gets in the... the popular press loves to frighten people. That's why we don't let our children outdoors because the popular press is frightening people about how dangerous the outdoors is. If it isn't child predators, it's the rays of the sun are giving us skin cancer. I don't know if you've got it in Australia, but we have ticks giving lime disease in the United States; all these dangers, all of which are easily handled. You can just put on sunscreen, you can do tick checks but they become...

Peter Gray:
They get blown up by the press, and then parents become frightened of them and they think that it would be negligent for me to allow my child to be outdoors playing. Then this becomes part of the social milieu. Everybody believes this, so therefore, you're not acting in a normative manner if you don't protect your child in these ways. So the same thing is happening with video play. The popular press, they'd probably get many more readers if they say.... if they use a headline like Digital Heroin, than they do if they use the headline that Playing Video Games Increases IQ. [crosstalk 00:44:36]-

Ellen Jackson:
No one wants to read that.

Peter Gray:
Nobody wants to read that, right? If they had a head line that says Five million Children Went Out To Play Today And They Came Back In Happy versus A Child Went Out To Play Today And Got Snatched Away By Somebody. Which one will draw the bigger readers? We hear all these scary headlines and we begin to... and once you have these images in your head, no matter how good you are about understanding probability... I can explain to people, "Yes, it is true that there is some tiny, tiny chance that your child will be snatched away if your child is out there. There's also a tine, tiny chance of being struck by lightening. There's a tiny, tiny chance. All of these things can happen. But the chances are so tiny, and everything you do involves am kind of risk."

Peter Gray:
Yet, what happens is, if you've got this image in your head of your child being snatched away by a child predator, it's hard to get that image out of your head no matter how many statistics you hear about it. We tend not to be natural statisticians. We tend to be people who, by nature, we go on the basis of personal experiences, and then this becomes kind of a personal experience. You've heard about this story, it's in your head, now how could you allow your child out? Similar thing.

Peter Gray:
You hear some story about some young man in Indonesia who played a video game three weeks straight and then died. You hear that story, a terrible story, and it apparently truly happened, but this is one person out of millions and millions of people who play video games, right? There are crazy people playing video games, just as there is crazy people doing... not playing video games, right? You hear a story like this and think, well, my gosh. How can I justify letting my child play video games if this could possibly happen to him? He could become addicted and not stop to eat and drink and will die as a result.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm going to ask you in a moment about the addiction side of things, but I think that is one thing that both in that situation of the outdoor play, but also with the video game play is that there's an opportunity cost of being fearful about these things and restricting activities. It's not just that we get scared about what might happen and lose perspective on how likely that is, it's also that if we restrict our kids from engaging in these activities, certainly the outdoor play and increasingly from the evidence that you've discussed here perhaps also in relation to video games... that if we don't give our kids the opportunity to do that, that they are actually missing out on some developmental opportunities that they really have the right to have.

Peter Gray:
Right. If parents would recognize, if you deprive your child the opportunity to develop what researchers call an internal locus of control. The sense of being in control of my own life, "I can decide things. I can make good judgments." This is an extremely important thing for people to develop. If you don't develop that, you're at much greater risk as you go along for psychologist depression, for anxiety disorders and for suicide. So if parents could think of it this way, if I let my child do this or that, there's a slight chance that something bad will happen. There also, actually a bigger chance that something bad will happen if I deprive my child from the opportunity to make his own judgments, to learn how to handle himself in these kinds of situations.

Peter Gray:
There's actually a bigger chance that something bad will happen to him. It's something, down the road, something that is not so easily pinpointed to some specific occurrence. But the data is now overwhelming that children who are deprived of the opportunities to make their own judgments, to control aspects of their own life, are more likely to suffer psychologically and are more likely to commit suicide even, later on. And suicide is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, believe it or not, amongst school aged children, let alone among young adults.

Ellen Jackson:
So the more we restrict kids, the more we set really rigid rules and guidelines and tell them what they can and can't do and when they can and can't do it, the less opportunity they have to develop that internal locus of control, is that right?

Peter Gray:
That's correct. Yes.

Ellen Jackson:
Peter, I want to ask you about the internet gaming disorder, or video gaming disorder, or video game addiction. I know that this has been a topic in the press recently because the world Health organization have declared internet... I've forgotten whether they call it video gaming or internet gaming, as a disorder in their latest decision around classifications of disorders. I know this has been something that has been discussed within the American psychiatric association with regard to the DSM and diagnosis. What are the concerns about this? Because I know this is something you've written about in terms of, is this really a diagnosable thing, and should it be a diagnosable thing? And what are the issues?

Peter Gray:
That's a very good question. First of all let me say, we use this word, addiction, for a lot of... people talk... people almost use the word addiction in the popular conversation, sometimes in a positive way. "I'm addicted to my work." People use "addicted" to refer to almost anything they like, "I'm addicted to chocolate." "I'm addicted to this or that," Meaning "I like it," And "I do a lot of it, and maybe I do more than I ought to do of it. Maybe I wouldn't be... maybe I shouldn't eat so much chocolate." I think it's not helpful to use the word, addiction, here because it confounds things.

Peter Gray:
Addiction has a very clear meaning when we're talking about alcohol addiction or drug addiction. I think it's even justifiable to talk about gambling addiction because... I think something is an addiction where it's a compulsion that you cannot apparently control you want to stop doing this, you desperately want to stop doing it, and it is creating clear harm to you and your loved ones. If you're addicted to alcohol, you're addicted to an opiate, you're addicted to gambling and you're gambling away, you're stealing to gamble and you can't stop gambling, those are serious problems that need to be diagnosed. That needs psychological treatment. That need...

Peter Gray:
To be addicted to a hobby, right? Is this... make sense to call it addiction? I do believe that there are... there certainly are some people, adults as well as children – and maybe even more adults than children – who are involved with internet activity, including video games, more than is good for them. And even they know it's not good for them. Even they know and yet they're doing more of it. It may be tempted to call, it may even be justifiable to call it addiction, but is there a reasonable way to diagnose it? To distinguish between... it's not just, you're doing a lot of it, because there are a lot of people who do a lot of it, where professionals at it, or who are really... they're getting a lot out of it and they're doing lot of it.

Peter Gray:
I'm talking about people... there are people who play video games and the video games themselves are not satisfying their life needs. They are using video games as a way of avoiding what really is their life needs. There are people who are unhappy and who are playing video games and I would say that they're playing video games as an escape from other aspects of their life. That requires psychological help, I believe. There are people who need psychological help. Not by taking the video game away because then they've got nothing, right? But by trying to help them figure out y is it that you're not doing the other things that you know you want to do? What is in the way? What's blocking you? Are you being bullied at school and don't have any friends? Are you unhappy with your work? If it's an adult.

Peter Gray:
There's actually research studies showing that the people who are most likely to be classified as addicted because they are unhappy... they want to stop doing it, but they can't seem to do it, are largely people for whom something else is missing in their life. I think that generally speaking, if it's children we're talking about, and the child is spending hours a hours a day playing video games and not doing anything else, and is not a happy child, then I would say that child needs some help. Not by closing down the menu still further, but by opening up the menu. What else in life is missing for this child? And how do we help provide that? That's what I think we need to do.

Peter Gray:
The problem with diagnosing video game addiction is that, the distinction... let me, in fact... because I thought you might ask this question, I actually listed what are the nine diagnostic criteria that the APA, at least, is proposing as their basis for diagnosing. They've listed five characteristics and if you have any... they've listed nine characteristics, rather. If you have any five of these characteristics, then that means you're addicted to video games. I want to read off five of the characteristics. I would argue that by that definition, when I was 11 years old, I was addicted to fishing, right? I was absolutely addicted to fishing. I would have a mental disorder, fishing disorder.

Ellen Jackson:
Fishing addiction.

Peter Gray:
I was really into fishing when I was 11 years old. The first one is, "Preoccupation. Spends lots of time thinking about games even when not playing them." Believe me, I spent lots of time thinking about fishing when I wasn't fishing. Fishing was my life when I was... fortunately, nobody thought it was a terrible thing. "Tolerance. Needs to play more, or play more powerful games to get the same excitement as before." Now, think about this. Anything that you do that's challenging, you need to keep making it more challenging or it's no fun. If I'm fishing, and initially I'm having fun just fishing for perch, they become too easy. Now I need something more challenging. I have to start fishing for trout which are harder to catch. I've moved up. I've developed tolerance. It's no longer fun just to catch perch, I now have to do this.

Peter Gray:
Similarly, with video games, "I've been playing this simple video game, I'm not good at this. I've developed tolerance for it, this is no fun any more, so I go to a more complex game. I need a more complex game." So that gets you a score for tolerance. So now you have racked up two scores for video game addiction. "Give up other activities." Time is limited. Anything you do, means that you've got to do less of meeting else. The fact that I did a lot of fishing during my fishing years means I played less baseball, I didn't spend as much time flying kites, to be honest, sometimes I too off from school to go fishing. In those days I wasn't regarded as... it was a crime, but people let it go.

Peter Gray:
You can't do anything without giving up something else to do it. So of course you give up other activities. So now we've got three scores for video game addiction. Here's one that sounds awful, "Deceive. Lie about how much he or she does." Even with fishing, which was not regarding in a really negative light for kids when I was a kid, there were times when I lied about fishing. I lied about the fact that I went fishing instead of going to school one or two days. I lied about it. But suppose you're in this world that we are today where video games are regarded as a negative thing, you're not supposed to be playing video games but I'm playing video games, there's a pretty strong temptation for me to lie about it to say [crosstalk 00:58:40]-

Ellen Jackson:
It encourages it, doesn't it?

Peter Gray:
Yeah. "No, I'm not playing video games." My mom goes away for the day, and she tells me to promise not to play video games. I say, "Okay, I won't play video games." And then you go ahead and play it. This is deception, but I would say it's deception because we're in an environment where you almost have... if you're going to do this thing, you almost have to deceive people about it because people don't want you to do it. So now we've got four of the five. Then the fifth one here is "Escape mood. Plays games to reduce anxiety or stress." Isn't it true that, at least to some degree, all of us do things that we like to do to reduce anxiety or stress. You come home from work, you're anxious, you're stressed about it, whatever it is you like to do, you do it. It takes your mind off the stress and you do it.

Peter Gray:
There are a lot of kids who I know who come home from school, they're really anxious and stress; they're upset about school. They play video games partly to reduce the stress of school. Here we have enough of those... enough characteristics to say, "This person is addicted to video games." Yet, every one of these characteristics is perfectly understandable for anybody who likes to play video games in today's world. I just-

Ellen Jackson:
Or indeed [inaudible 01:00:08].

Peter Gray:
So I just think it's really a judgment call whether you're going to diagnose somebody. To what degree do they have these things currently depends on their honesty and how they answer the questions during the diagnostic period. I have a person I know who does psychotherapy, who's a psychotherapist who, among other things, treats people who believe they're playing video games more than they should be and who find that they're... one of the things that he says when he tells clients, he said, "Let's not call it addiction. That makes it sound pathological. This is not pathological."

Peter Gray:
He also goes through and he tells them... somebody will come in and he'll say, "I'm a lazy bum. All I do is play video games." This guy actually plays... this psychotherapist plays video games himself, and he says, "Tell me what game you play." And he'll tell him the game, and he'll say, "What level are you at?" And he'll say, "That's a tough game. You can't really be a lazy bum. That takes a lot of work to do that."

Ellen Jackson:
A bit of reframing.

Peter Gray:
"So let's reframe this here." Then he says, "Instead of talking about addiction, let's talk about it as something that's pretty normal. Something that we all have. Let's talk about it as a time management problem. So let's put it back in the realm of normality. All of us have time management problems. All of us have difficulty disciplining ourselves to do some of the things that we know we ought to be doing and not spend so much time doing some of those things that we really like to do. So, how do we budget our time? How do we enforce this?" He reframes it in that kind of way.

Peter Gray:
And I think that's very health. I think if we recognize that some kids, as well as some adults, are playing video games more than they... more than is good for them, and they know it's more than is good for them, how of they... how might we help them reframe this and think about it and set limit for themselves that they understand and they're determining the limits themselves of how much to limit it rather than we are, so they've still got an internal locus of control about doing this? That's the way we could be helping people.

Ellen Jackson:
And we're not pathologizing it, or causing them-

Peter Gray:
Calling it video games disorder or internet gaming disorder is not helpful for that.

Ellen Jackson:
Peter, so many interesting ideas there. I think so much information that will hopefully help parent to, perhaps, think differently about their child's internet gaming or video gaming or screen time use. I think we've probably only touched the surface of a lot of these issues. I know it's complex, and I know it's difficult for parents to grapple with what they feel society is telling them or the popular press is telling them versus what the evidence might be, or even the judgements that they might be able to make about their own child and whether they think that their... have a healthy, appropriate use of video games versus what might be a less than healthful use.

Ellen Jackson:
I'm going to put links to a lot of... all of your blog posts on the topic, as well as some of the research papers that you've mentioned today in the show notes for people to investigate further if they're interested. I'll also put a link to your book so that people can get hold of that if they're interested. Is there anywhere else that they might be able to find out more that you'd recommend?

Peter Gray:
There's one book. There's a researcher, Christopher Ferguson, who's a long time researcher in the realm of video play. He's written a book, he and... I forget the name of his co-author, called Moral Combat, which he's done research on. One of the things we didn't talk about is the question of whether playing violent video games promotes violence. He's done a lot of research, real world research, which, in my analysis of his research, is it's the best studies done on that question and he finds no evidence whatsoever that there's any... not even a correlation between the playing of violent video games and real world violence.

Peter Gray:
He's written a book called Moral Combat which is sort of about the moral panic that, as a society, we have about video play in general. It's a well reasoned book. He's not claiming that there aren't some people who are, just as I just said now, who are playing too much video games. Not claiming that there are no problems at all here, but he's been-

Ellen Jackson:
That's the case with everything, isn't it, really?

Peter Gray:
Yeah. But he's bringing common sense to bear on it. He's somebody I would recommend looking into.

Ellen Jackson:
Excellent. Fantastic. So I'll pop the details for that as well into the show notes. Peter, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it and all of your insights and input. I know it's giving me something to think about, although, I try to be pretty reasonable about my kids use of video games. I try to look at it from the perspective of, what are they actually getting out of this experience? What draws them to it? What are they learning. I have two sons and they use their screen time very differently because they're different kids and they've got different interests. I really like your ideas there about helping them to develop and internal locus of control around this stuff so that they learn to self-regulate as best they can, they learn to manage that.

Ellen Jackson:
I think that's given me a little bit more to think about in that regard. Thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it. Hopefully, anyone who's interested in finding out a little more, will follow up some of the tips and links and resources that we've put in the show notes that you've recommended.

Peter Gray:
Okay. It's been nice talking with you.

Ellen Jackson:
Lovely, thank you.