Does the rise of video games and online porn mean the demise of guys?

Does the rise of video games and the proliferation of online porn mean the demise of guys? Researchers are increasingly saying “yes.” (Note: if you are a parent of teen or pre-teen boys, you might want to keep some Xanax handy as you read this.)

Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University. Zimbardo teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. Following are some excerpts from a recent article on the CNN website featuring Zimbardo’s comments.

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until “the time is right.”

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.”

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Note: I don’t agree with everything in the article. For example, I’m not a fan of using extreme examples (like the Korean man who died while playing StarCraft, and the Norwegian mass murderer who played a lot of video games before resorting to shooting people in real life) to make the argument for the destructiveness of a habit. Let the research speak for itself. People who ignore their body’s needs for food and water to the point of death, and/or people who become mass murderers have other issues besides playing computer games and watching porn. Nevertheless, this article is worth reading and thinking about.

If you’re interested, you can watch Zimabardo’s 2011 TED talk on “The Demise of Guys” here.

What do you think? Do you agree with Zimbardo?

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