Are video games as addictive and damaging to children as gambling is to adults? In a word—yes, according to a new study of nearly 1,200  children aged eight to 18 in the U.S.

This is the first study, according to study lead author Douglas Gentile, a director of research for the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family, to quantify ways in which gaming may damage kids' ability to function socially. Gentile, an assistant psychology professor at Iowa State University, analyzed data collected in a January 2007 Harris Poll survey and compared respondents' video game play habits to the symptoms established in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for pathological gambling.

The gamers (who said they played video games at least 24 hours per week) were classified as "pathological" if they exhibited at least six of 11 symptoms: salience (the activity dominates the person's life), euphoria or relief (the activity provides a "high" or the relief of unpleasant feelings), tolerance (over time, a greater amount of activity is needed to achieve the same "high"), withdrawal symptoms (the person experiences unpleasant physical effects or negative emotions when unable to engage in the activity), conflict (the activity leads to clashes with other people, work, obligations, or oneself), and relapse and reinstatement (the person continues the activity despite attempts to abstain from it).

The results of the survey, published today in the online edition of Psychological Science: that 88 percent of American kids between the ages of eight and 18 play video games occasionally or more and that four times as many boys as girls in the study were considered "pathological gamers."

Gentile concedes in his study that the results yield more questions than answers.

"We do not know who is most at risk for developing pathological patterns of play," he writes, "what the time course of developing pathological patterns is, how long the problems persist, what percentage of pathological gamers need help, what types of help might be most effective, or even whether pathological video-game use is a distinct problem or part of a broader spectrum of disorders."

Image © Mike Sonnenberg