Expert Commentary

Internet addiction and personality in first-person-shooter video gamers

2011 study from the University of Bonn and SUNY in the Journal of Media Psychology on the connection between personality traits and time spent online.


According to a Pew survey, more than half of Americans play video games. Where there’s pleasure there can also be dependence, however: Estimates of Internet addiction — which has been linked to traits such as low self-esteem and social phobia — range from 0.3% to 0.7% of the U.S. population. Players of immersive “first person shooter” games are of particular interest to researchers because they typically spend many hours online, and the consequences of game play can include increased aggression and habituation to violent imagery.

A 2011 study by the University of Bonn and the State University of New York-Stony Brook published in the Journal of Media Psychology, “Internet Addiction and Personality in First-Person-Shooter Video Gamers,” captured self-reported levels of extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, cooperativeness and self-directedness from 592 male and 18 female active online gamers ages 15 to 24 in Germany. The researchers also measured the number of weekly hours spent with gaming and non-gaming online activities, as well each participant’s body mass index (BMI) and drinking and smoking behaviors. Roughly 500 (82%) of study participants played first-person shooter games such as Counterstrike (65.2%) and Call of Duty 4 (13.8%), while 18% reported playing non-shooter games such as World of Warcraft and FIFA.

Study findings include:

  • Study participants spent between 4 and 37 hours a week online; the average participant spent more than 20 hours a week online. Nearly 61% of study participants were classified as average Internet users; “37.9% fall in the range of persons with occasional problems in daily life due to Internet use … and 1.6% reported severe problems [due to Internet use].”
  • Internet addiction among gamers was strongly associated with low self-esteem and self-acceptance, and an inability to organize their lives — traits that are part of what psychologists label “self-directedness.” A low degree of conscientiousness — defined in part as a “feeling of responsibility for undertaken tasks and following through to a finish” — was also associated with Internet addiction. An elevated score for anger was found to be only somewhat related to time spent online and social maladjustment.
  • While factors such as smoking, BMI and geographic location had little or no relationship with Internet addiction among gamers, “physical ailments resulting in impairments at work or leisure over the course of the last four weeks correlated positively with Internet addiction.”

The authors conclude: “The character dimension Self-Directedness might be a crucial target for behavioral therapists in the context of the ‘addicted’ online gamer’s therapy. As low Self-Directedness is associated with low resourcefulness and self-acceptance … it is of importance to practice coping strategies in problematic Internet users with respect to the demands of everyday life.”

While the dimension of violence is not addressed at length in the study, related research — “A Longitudinal Study of the Association Between Violent Video Game Play and Aggression Among Adolescents” (2011) and “Pathological Video Game Use Among Youths: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study” (2011) — examine these dynamics in further detail.

Tags: youth, addiction

About The Author