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Why your grandma should start playing Xbox
New research points to a link between video games and happiness for senior citizens
Smile!
Smile! Randy Faris/CORBIS
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he question: Plenty of studies have suggested that video games can help keep the minds of senior citizens sharp, but how does the digital exercise affect their emotional well-being? In a new study, researchers from North Carolina State University looked closely at our aging population to see if there was a link between playing video games and mental well-being — i.e. "happiness." In particular, they wondered if gaming could help stave off depression.

How it was tested: The team, led by Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NCSU, surveyed 140 people ages 63 and older. Participants were asked if and how often they played video games, and were later administered a series of tests to assess their emotional and social well-being.

The outcome: 61 percent of seniors said they played video games occasionally, while 35 percent said they played at least once a week. (What games they played, specifically, are unclear.) Overall, participants who said they played video games — even occasionally — reported "higher levels of happiness, or well-being," says Rick Nauert at PsychCentral. "Those who did not play video games reported more negative emotions" and were more likely to be depressed.

What the experts say: While correlation doesn't mean causation, the established link is worth a closer look. "The research published here suggests that there a link between gaming and better well-being and emotional functioning," says Dr. Jason Allaire in a news release. "We are currently planning studies to determine whether playing digital games actually improves mental health in older adults." And if the relationship is causal, it remains unclear why video games cause older adults to be happier.

The lesson: Maybe it's worth setting aside some time with grandma or grandpa to school them in the the nuances of dual thumbsticks. Just look at how happy this guy is:

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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