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Why neuroscientists say you shouldn’t play smartphone games to alleviate boredom

That mood boost you get will increase your urge to keep playing, feeding a cycle that will lead to less time for healthier pursuits.

Why neuroscientists say you shouldn’t play smartphone games to alleviate boredom
[Source Photo: rawpixel]
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We’ve all ignored our to-do list to play a rollicking game of Minecraft or Candy Crush or Minesweeper (remember that?). But when is that gaming most destructive?

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Researchers at the University of Waterloo have a possible answer. They followed 60 smartphone gamers and found that it’s better to avoid playing if you’re doing it in an effort to escape boredom.

In the study, gamers who started playing to alleviate day-to-day “intense boredom” were more immersed by games, experiencing more “flow” state, and higher mood improvements than everyone else. Not surprisingly, these players proceeded to spend more time playing, doing so both longer and more often.

“This sets up a cycle of playing video games to elevate a depressed mood,” says coauthor Michael Dixon, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. “This is maladaptive because although it elevates your mood, it also increases your urge to keep playing. Playing too long may lead to addiction, and means less time is available for other, healthier pursuits. This can actually increase your depression.”

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More research is necessary, though this all suggests two rules of thumb: Don’t game to relieve a low mood, and prioritize real-life activities that engage and excite.

The research appears this week in Computers in Human Behavior.