Excess Correlation Linked To Claims Of Causation Without Proof

from the correlation-and-causation dept

Over on Dr. Sanjay Gupta's CNN blog, there's a report claiming that excess gaming is linked to depression and bad grades, with the report clearly suggesting that those "addicted" to gaming get depressed and do poorly. It even trots out the old silly argument about making "video game addiction" an official disorder. But, of course, the study is really only showing a correlation between these things, rather than any sort of causal relationship. One could just as plausibly argue that depressed kids choose to deal with or mask their depression by playing more video games. But, I guess headlines that say "depression causes kids to play more video games" isn't as catchy as assuming it's the other way around. Those who have worked with compulsive video gamers have found that there's almost always a separate cause, and treating the problem as "video game addiction," rather than figuring out why the person wants to play so much, tends not to work.


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    Call me Al, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 1:10am

    This seems a fairly typical moral panic. To me it seems obvious that people who are depressed might like to play more games as its escapism from their own world and troubles. Of course what is obvious is rarely what is newsworthy.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 6:34am

      Re: Agreed

      I agree 100%. During college I hit a rather rough spot and wound up failing a few classes and almost got kicked out. While the whole thing was going on I used video games as an escape. If I was conquering the world in Civ3 or taking out Nazis in Battlefield I fealt great and was able to forget all about my actual problems.

       

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        Jim G., Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:17am

        Re: Re: Agreed

        I have had many conversation with friends about whether playing violent video games makes someone more likely to commit violence themselves. We always laugh at this idea and mock the people who believe it.

        Then we casually comment “Of course, I nearly flunked Calculus in school and my best friend DID get an F, and I lost my girlfriend when the WoW expansion came out, and I got in trouble at work just last week for reading message boards. But violence? HA!”

        I will admit that computer games are my heroin. They are the perfect escape in which I seem to be awake and thinking, but I am actually lost in a dream world. They give me the illusion of success, an illusion so compelling that I can’t shake it off. “Well, you didn’t get that promotion at work” my brain says to me, “but you DID get your archmage to level 20! What a productive day!”

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 2:14am

    Correlation and causation can both happen at the same time through the magic of positive feedback, and everyone can be right. For example, if a depressed person plays more videos games, then you can be right. If the video games make a person more depressed, then Dr Gupta can be right in his diagnosis. He can be right in his prescription, as well: taking away the video games will break the positive feedback loop and remove a contributor to depression. Since removing video games must necessarily result in replacements such as going outdoors in the sunshine or socializing with friends, all of which lead to less depression than sitting in a chair and watching pixels move about.

     

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      cc (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 4:10am

      Re:

      In that case, you could substitute "video games" with any activity that may be said to exacerbate depression, including for instance "sleeping".

      "Depressed people sleep more. Sleeping leads to more depression. Therefore, depressed people shouldn't be allowed to sleep." I think we should write that into law.

       

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        Michael, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 6:48am

        Re: Re:

        Let's throw some important statistics into that as well...

        100% of depressed people eat.
        Eating causes depression.
        We should take food away from all depressed people.

        This one actually works since it would reduced the number of depressed people to zero in about a week.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 3:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          100% of depressed people eat.
          Eating causes depression.
          We should take food away from all depressed people.

          You are clearly not thinking of the children.

          Since eating causes depression, we should take food away from everyone.
          Then our children will inherit a world free of depression.

           

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      Jose_X, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 5:07am

      Re:

      >> Since removing video games must necessarily result in replacements such as

      Well, if depression came "first" in this feedback cycle, then removing games should not be expected to lead to a resolution of the depression (eg, get sunshine or socialize).

      It might lead to a resolution (eg, now I have some experiences to share in social contexts where I failed before), in which case we can thank gaming, or it might lead to looking for another escape that won't resolve the depression and might do more harm (eg, drug abuse).

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 3:30am

    "...replacements such as going outdoors in the sunshine or socializing with friends..."

    Or drugs and alcohol abuse, but your idea is good too.

     

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    Planespotter (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 3:41am

    The CNN article is based on research by Professor Douglas Gentile, there is a question and answer session done by Playstationlifestyle.net here >> http://playstationlifestyle.net/2011/01/24/the-dark-side-of-gaming-professor-douglas-gentile-on-depr ession-and-addiction/ and I think the actual paper can be downloaded/read here >> http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/peds.2010-1353v1.

    I still think it's a great moral panic!

     

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    abc gum, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 4:37am

    I think the Chinese have developed a cure for this ailment.
    /s

     

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    Bengie, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 5:14am

    Addicted to Work

    I heard people who work over 40 hours per week can get stressed, leading to depression or social issues.

    Working overtime should be outlawed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 5:35am

    Basically, they used the "Masnick Effect" on the data, allowing the results to be based not so much on fact, but on what they wanted it to say to start with.

     

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      Hephaestus (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 7:33am

      Re:

      "Basically, they used the "Masnick Effect" on the data, allowing the results to be based not so much on fact, but on what they wanted it to say to start with."

      I do have to say mike does this sometimes, but so does everyone else. People see things as through the filter of what they believe. You are no different, after all you attached a label to it, the "Masnick Effect", which shows your belief.

      Also ... is it my imaginiation or are the titles of these stories getting more tabloidish recently?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 8:22am

        Re: Re:

        I pointed that out ages ago, titles that either are WOW GOLLY GEE or are somewhat to completely misleading.

        The "Masnick Effect" is just a nice parody of the silly "Streisand Effect". Proof if nothing else that cause and effect often come from the same place.

         

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          Hephaestus (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 8:32am

          Re: Re: Re:

          " Proof if nothing else that cause and effect often come from the same place."

          Mike is sometime guilty of that. Agiain we all are. In the case of this article. Its a combination of both Correlation, and Causation. Where depression causes the escapism and gaming, and there is a correlation between the loss of friends due to gaming and depression. Its a gray area that is case dependent. So both titles hold ...

          "Gaming causes depression" and "Depression causes gaming"

          Also do you want to see the cat in a box my uncle schrodinger left me? :)

           

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      average_joe (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:06am

      Re:

      Basically, they used the "Masnick Effect" on the data, allowing the results to be based not so much on fact, but on what they wanted it to say to start with.

      "Masnick Effect." LOL! I like that.

       

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    Jose_X, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 5:41am

    Let this "correlation" serve as a warning

    My academic performance went *down* after I stopped playing video games. [honestly]

     

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    The Cabin, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 6:21am

    Treating Addiction

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 7:09am

    Gupta is just depressed because he tried World of Warcraft and the n00b got pwned!

     

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    AZ Libertarian, Jan 26th, 2011 @ 9:24am

    Another possible cause ...

    For me, watching CNN causes minor depression, so I turn it off. Clearly established cause-effect.

    Remember when Gupta failed to correct the error that "embryos aren't fertilized?" http://newsbusters.org/blogs/matthew-balan/2009/03/12/cnns-gupta-fails-correct-bill-clinton-s-multip le-fertilized-gaffe

    Gupta's junk science is caused by an excess of political correctness. Now that's cause and effect.

     

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    keith (profile), Jan 26th, 2011 @ 10:00am

    thoughtless

    But Mike, think of the children! Obviously the right thing to do is for Congress to hold a special session and legislate software timer locks for all video game systems that only allow 60minutes of playtime per day.

     

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