USU researchers study possible link with video games, social media and marital happiness

LOGAN – According to a new Utah State University study, there may be some correlation between marital unhappiness and the use of social networking and video games. Researchers Jeffrey Dew and Sarah Tulane from the Family, Consumer, and Human Development Department at USU recently studied the effects television use, playing video games and social media use can have on marriages.

The two used a survey of married couples to compare the effects the different mediums have. It looked at marital happiness, how often the couples fight with each other and how likely the couples thought their marriage would end in divorce.

“We’ve had TV as a medium for six decades now, where social media websites are only 15-years old max.” Dew said. “You’ll have message boards before then but video games didn’t really hit mainstream until the 80s. These are kind of two new-types of media that may be impacting families that we were kind of interested in looking at.”

Dew pointed out another difference these new mediums have from television.

“It’s a much more interactive media,” he said. “Gaming and social networking websites are a lot more interactive than TV is. Where TV is passive, you kind of consume it … with social media websites you are actually creating content and with video games you are actually participating in it.”

When it came to television, there didn’t seem to be a correlation between its use and marital problems, but when it came to social media and video games, however, there was a correlation. The study revealed that if a wife spends a lot of time on social media, it is unlikely to cause marital problems, but if the husband is the using social media, problems are more likely.

“We weren’t able to test the reasons why, so all we can do is speculate,” Dew said. “But part of what we think is going on here is just kind of what is normative as far as gender norms go.”

Dew said the wives are probably likely to use social media for many different purposes while men generally have fewer uses. He said 40 percent of men don’t even use social networking websites.

“What we think is going on here is it’s not socially normative for men to be on these social networking websites,” he said. “And they may also be causing the wife some jealousy.”

When it came to video game use, the amount of time spent playing by the couple didn’t seem to matter, as long as both husband and wife were spending equal amounts of time playing.

“What mattered was the difference,” Dew said. “If you’ve got a gamer married to a non-gamer, that’s where the problems start coming in.”

Dew said it was important to note that while negative effects from gaming and social media were both present, they weren’t “huge.”

“We can talk correlation, but the size of the correlation matters too,” he said. “The sizes weren’t super big compared to other types of things you might find in the study.”

According to a USU press release, the results were published in the December 2015 issue of “Journal of Family Economic Issues”.

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