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Children's stressful life experience, school connectedness, and online gaming addiction moderated by gratitude.

According to the 37th Statistical Report on Internet Development in China released by the China Internet Network Information Center (2016), as of December 2015, the number of Internet users in China had reached 688 million, of whom 21.4% were children or adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years. Though the Internet brings convenience to people, it also presents growing concerns among policymakers, researchers, and practitioners who work closely with children (e.g., primary and secondary school teachers). One concern is the risk of juvenile Internet addiction, which refers to the overuse of the Internet among children and young adolescents, with the direct consequence of disrupting their social, psychological, emotional, and physical functioning even without the influence of an addictive substance (Yu, Zhang, & Zeng, 2012). Indeed, researchers have indicated that Internet addiction can lead to a large number of psychological and behavioral problems in children and adolescents, such as poor academic performance, problematic internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and impaired socioemotional functioning (Ye, Liu, & Yang, 2014; Yu et al., 2012; Zhang, Yu, & Xu, 2015). It is noteworthy that Internet addiction among children and adolescents in China occurs mainly in the form of online gaming addiction, comprising an estimated 40%-70% of diagnosed cases (Zuo & Ma, 2010). Therefore, we examined the factors that may increase or reduce the risk of online gaming addiction among children and adolescents, with a focus on children in their early teens, who are considered the most vulnerable population (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012). We also examined the underlying mechanisms of online gaming addiction with the goal of obtaining empirical evidence to be used for preventing and intervening in online gaming addiction among Chinese children and adolescents.

Researchers have reported that stressful life experience is associated with online gaming addiction among children and adolescents (H. Li, Zou, Wang, & Yang, 2016; Tang et al., 2014). However, the extent of this influence remains largely unstudied, and little research has been conducted to investigate the underlying mechanism through which stressful life experience is connected to online gaming addiction, particularly in the Chinese educational context (H. Wei, Zhou, Tian, Ding, & Xiong, 2016). According to social control theory (Hirschi, 1969) and social connection theory (Donath, 2007), children and adolescents who are more socially, emotionally, and psychologically connected to their schools tend to have a stronger emphasis on the importance of maintaining good relationships with their teachers and classmates, and are less likely to develop disruptive, deviant behaviors, such as online gaming addiction (Demanet & Van Houtte, 2012). In line with these theories, there is empirical evidence that the extent to which children and adolescents are psychologically connected with their school is an important predictor of online gaming addiction (Hirschi, 2002; Resnick et al., 1997).

On a typical day, Chinese students spend as much as 13.8 hours of their awake time in school (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2014). Therefore, we anticipated that school connectedness would mediate the relationship between stressful life experience and online gaming addiction. School connectedness is students' perception that they are accepted and respected by other important people (e.g., teachers, coaches) or in important places (e.g., classrooms) in their school (Demanet & Van Houtte, 2012; D. Li et al., 2013). A high level of perceived connectedness with school can effectively reduce the time spent on online gaming among adolescents at risk of online gaming addiction (D. Li et al., 2013). In addition, students' perceived degree of school connectedness is affected by stressful school experience. Empirical findings indicate that a number of stressful life experiences, such as excessive academic pressure and difficult interpersonal relationships, significantly affect school connectedness (Waters, Cross, & Shaw, 2010). On the basis of the above theories and the extant empirical findings on the relationships between stressful life experience, school connectedness, and online gaming addiction, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: School connectedness will mediate the association between stressful life experience and online gaming addiction among adolescents in China.

In addition to school connectedness, gratitude has been reported as an important protective factor against online gaming addiction among children and adolescents (e.g., Duprey, McKee, O'Neal, & Algoe, 2018; C. Wei et al., 2014). Gratitude refers to a psychological tendency felt by people who gain a positive experience from the benefaction or support of other people and/or provision of essential items (e.g., food, clothing, and shelter), and who understand or respond to it with sincere appreciation, recognition, emotion and/or behavior (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010). In a survey study on middle school students' virtue development, Yu et al. (2012) showed that gratitude helps to fulfill basic psychological needs, thereby reducing the risk of problem behaviors, including online gaming addiction. Long and colleagues (2018) found a significant negative correlation between gratitude and online gaming addiction among Chinese children and adolescents, with the largest effect occurring among left-behind children, who typically live in rural areas with their grandparents while their parents are away from home working in urban areas.

In the protection--protecting factor model it is suggested that there may be interactions between multiple protective factors (D. Li et al., 2013; Wang, Zhang, Li, Li, & Zhang, 2012). These interactions can either promote or hinder the association between each protective factor and maladaptive child outcomes, such as online gaming addiction. This model has two competing hypotheses: promotion and exclusion. According to the promotion hypothesis, one protection factor may be promoted by another protection factor to enhance the predictive effect on the outcome variable. In line with this hypothesis, school connectedness should be a stronger predictor of online gaming addiction when the level of gratitude is higher. By contrast, according to the exclusion hypothesis, a protection factor may become less prominent with the presence of another protection factor in predicting the outcome variable. In line with this hypothesis, school connectedness should be a weaker predictor of online gaming addiction when the level of gratitude is higher.

Thus, in this study we tested the moderating role of gratitude in the relationship between school connectedness and online gaming addiction by examining the competing promotion and exclusion hypotheses. We proposed gratitude as the moderator in the present model because, compared to school connectedness, which is more tangible and more malleable to school- and family-related stressful experiences, as a cognitive asset gratitude tends to be more stable and consistent over time and events (Duprey et al., 2018). Therefore, our aim was to investigate the extent to which gratitude interacts with school connectedness to predict online gaming addiction among Chinese adolescents using a moderated mediation model (see Figure 1). In a moderated mediation model, a condition is specified whereby the indirect effect of a mediator differs by the levels of the moderator. Because the extent to which two protective factors may promote or hinder each other is not specified in the protection--protecting factor hypotheses, and because there is little empirical knowledge available about how these two factors interact, we explored the interaction between school connectedness and gratitude without forming a specific hypothesis on the direction. Therefore, our second hypothesis was as follows:

Hypothesis 2: Gratitude will act as a moderator in the relationship between school connectedness and online gaming addiction among adolescents in China.

In summary, we tested a moderated mediation model, specifically aiming to investigate (a) the mediating role of school connectedness in the relationship between stressful life experience and online gaming addiction and (b) the moderating role of gratitude in the relationship between school connectedness and online gaming addiction. Through the analyses, therefore, we were attempting to answer two questions simultaneously: How do stressful life experiences affect online gaming addiction among adolescents in China? To what extent does gratitude moderate this association?

Method

Participants

We used random cluster sampling to recruit 579 students in Grades 4 to 6 attending two public primary schools (township level) in a suburban area of Hubei Province in China. Among them, 264 were boys and 315 were girls. The numbers of participants in Grades 4, 5, and 6 were 191, 195, and 193, respectively. The average age of the participants was 10.54 years (SD = 0.96, range = 8.17-13.25 years).

Procedure

Permission to conduct the study was granted by the Research Ethics Committee of Guangzhou University. Undergraduates trained in psychology and psychology teachers in the school administered the survey in a classroom setting after informed consent was obtained from school administrators and students. Students filled out the survey anonymously and were given the choice to leave the study at any time.

Measures

Stressful life experience. We measured stressful life experience with the Adolescents' Stress Life Events Scale (Liu, Liu, Yang, & Chai, 1997), which consists of 27 items describing life events that may cause negative psychological reactions. The frequency of events and associated amount of stress are rated on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 0 (did not occur) to 5 (occurred and was extremely stressful). Example items include "Failing an academic test," "Death of a family member," and "Having a conflict with friend/classmate." The total score is calculated by summing all responses, with higher scores indicating a higher level of stressful life experiences. Cronbach's alpha in this study was .88.

School connectedness. We assessed school connectedness with the Chinese version (C. Wei et al., 2016) of the School Connectedness Questionnaire (McNeely, Nonnemaker, & Blum, 2002), which was used in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The Chinese version has been reported to have good reliability and validity (C. Wei et al., 2016). This scale consists of five items: "I am very happy at school," "I think I am a member of the school," "I feel close to people in school," "I feel safe in school," and "Teachers treat students fairly enough." Participants rate their responses on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Scores are averaged across the five items, with higher scores reflecting higher levels of school connectedness. Cronbach's alpha in this study was .67.

Gratitude. We assessed gratitude with the Chinese version (C. Wei, Wu, Kong, & Wang, 2011) of the Gratitude Questionnaire (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002), which consists of six items rated on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (absolutely disagree) to 7 (absolutely agree). Example items include "I have many things to be thankful for in my life," and "Look around this world, there is nothing worth being thankful for." (reverse-scored). Responses to the items are averaged, with a higher score reflecting a higher level of gratitude. Cronbach's alpha in this study was .71.

Online gaming addiction. Online gaming addiction was assessed with the 11-item Online Gaming Addiction Questionnaire (Yu, Li, & Zhang, 2015), which has been demonstrated to have good reliability and validity in a Chinese adolescent sample. Participants answer each item on a 3-point Likert scale: 1 (never), 2 (sometimes), and 3 (always). Example items include "Has it been difficult for you to reduce or control the time you spend on online games?" "Have you stolen money for playing online games?" and "Do you play online games as a way to alleviate bad moods?" Responses are averaged, with higher scores representing higher levels of online gaming addiction. Cronbach's alpha in this study was .87.

Covariates. Participants' age, gender, and family socioeconomic status (composed of a single factor derived from principal components analysis of the z scores of father's and mother's education and family members' average monthly income, with higher scores indicating higher socioeconomic status) were included as covariates in the analytic model.

Results

Correlation Analysis of All Study Variables

In Table 1 the correlation matrix of all study variables is presented. The correlation analysis results show that levels of stressful life experience were significantly and positively related to online gaming addiction, indicating that stressful life experience was a risk factor for online gaming addiction. In addition, both gratitude and school connectedness had significantly negative correlations with online gaming addiction, suggesting that they were protective factors for online gaming addiction. Finally, gratitude was significantly and positively correlated with school connectedness.

The Relationship Between Stressful Life Experience and Online Gaming Addiction: A Moderated Mediation Model

We followed the guidelines for testing a moderated mediation model suggested by Wen and Ye (2014) and Ye, Yang, and Hu (2013), whereby the following four criteria should be met: (a) the exogenous variable (stressful life experience) should significantly predict the outcome variable (online gaming addiction), (b) the exogenous variable (stressful life experience) should significantly predict the mediator (school connectedness), (c) the mediator (school connectedness) should significantly predict the outcome variable (online gaming addiction), and (d) the moderator (gratitude) x mediator (school connectedness) interaction should significantly predict the outcome variable (online gaming addiction).

Because each of the measures was rated on a different scale, we normalized all variables and used z scores in the subsequent analyses. The moderating effect was tested by regressing the gratitude x school connectedness interaction term on the outcome variable of online gaming addiction. To test for multicollinearity, we also calculated the variance inflation factors across all predictors; these were all smaller than 2.50, indicating that multicollinearity was not a major concern in this study.

We have presented the results in multistep regression tables (see Table 2). In Equation 1 stressful life experience was a significant predictor of online gaming addiction, in Equation 2 stressful life experience negatively predicted school connectedness, in Equation 3 school connectedness negatively predicted online gaming addiction, and in Equation 4 the effect of the gratitude x school connectedness interaction on online gaming addiction was positive and significant. Taking all the findings together, we concluded that the model met the criteria for moderated mediation as suggested by Wen and Ye (2014) and Ye et al. (2013). Therefore, gratitude moderated the extent to which school connectedness mediated the relationship between stressful life experience and online gaming addiction. Specifically, as suggested in Equation 4, gratitude moderated the second half of the mediating process, that is, stressful life experience [right arrow] school connectedness [right arrow] online gaming addiction.

To examine how gratitude moderated the effect of school connectedness on online gaming addiction, we split our sample by M [+ or -] SD on gratitude and presented the moderated effect in a line chart. Figure 2 shows how gratitude moderated the effect of school connectedness on online gaming addiction. Using a simple slope test, we found that when students' level of gratitude was low (M - SD), a higher level of perceived school connectedness was associated with a lower level of online gaming addiction (b = -.18, SE = 0.05, t = -3.45, p < .001). In addition, the indirect effect of school connectedness was significant (indirect effect = .08, SE = 0.04, p < .05). In contrast, when the level of gratitude was high (M + SD), it did not moderate the effect of school connectedness (b = .01, SE = 0.06, t = 0.15, p > .05), and the indirect effect of school connectedness was nonsignificant (indirect effect = -.01, SE = 0.02, p > .05), but it did affect online gaming independently (as shown in Equation 3). Finally, when both gratitude and school connection were low, the students had the highest risk of online gaming addiction (z = 0.25).

Discussion

We investigated the associations between stressful life experience, school connectedness, gratitude, and online gaming addiction with a sample of young adolescents in China. By examining a moderated mediation model that takes into consideration the interaction of multiple protective factors for online gaming addiction, we have enhanced the extant literature. Specifically, we found that school connectedness mediated the association between stressful life experience and online gaming addiction, and that gratitude moderated the association between school connectedness and online gaming addiction. Moreover, we have provided empirical evidence that supports an exclusion hypothesis for the protection--protecting factor model, shedding light on research and practice aimed at preventing adolescent online gaming addiction through leveraging multiple protective factors.

Consistent with our first hypothesis and findings from previous research (e.g., Pan, Zaff, & Donlan, 2017; H. Wei, Zhou, & Li, 2014), we found that stressful life experience was positively associated with young adolescents' online gaming addiction. H. Wei et al. (2014) found that stressful life experience was significantly and positively related to online gaming addiction in a sample of college students. In addition, they reported that stressful life experience was the most direct risk factor of Internet addiction. We focused on a younger population in this study and confirmed that stressful life experience was a significant risk factor for online gaming addiction among children in their early adolescent years. This finding indicates that a more holistic approach is called for in understanding young people's life experience and highlights that families, caregivers, communities, and schools should be more aware of online gaming addiction among students and its potential association with stressful life experience.

We also explored the underlying mechanism whereby stressful life experience indirectly predicts online gaming addiction through perceived school connectedness. Consistent with the findings of prior researchers (e.g., D. Li et al., 2013), we found that a higher level of school connectedness was associated with a lower level of online gaming addiction. More important, school connectedness mitigated the direct effect of stressful life experience on online gaming addiction, which suggests that school connectedness is an important bridge in the process of stressful life experience leading to online gaming addiction. When a student is feeling stress from their life experiences, such as failing an important test or the death of a family member, he or she is more likely to turn to online games for support. In addition, students are likely to become more detached from school because of these stressors, making them more vulnerable to online gaming addiction.

Finally, we found that gratitude and online gaming addiction were significantly and negatively correlated with each other. This finding is consistent with reports in the extant literature that gratitude is a protective factor for online gaming addiction (Yu et al., 2012). More important, we found that gratitude moderated the indirect effect of stressful life experience on online gaming addiction. The moderating effect was present in the school connectedness--online gaming addiction path. Our results also show that the magnitude of the indirect effect of school connectedness was greater in individuals with a low versus high level of gratitude. This finding supports the exclusionary hypothesis in the protection--protecting factor model, which implies that protectors such as school connectedness and gratitude compensate for each other in the context of preventing online gaming addiction. Specifically, the effect of school connectedness on the risk of online gaming addiction appeared to be minimal in the presence of high levels of gratitude, suggesting a small added value of school connectedness; in contrast, a high level of school connectedness prevented students with low gratitude from becoming addicted to online video games, suggesting a high compensatory value for school connectedness. Another interpretation of our findings is that because individuals with high gratitude have less pathological Internet use, the extent to which they are connected to school does not drive the difference in online gaming addiction, whereas individuals with low gratitude tend to have more pathological Internet use, in which case an increase in school connectedness can significantly reduce the risk of online gaming addiction. Our findings shed light on ways to reduce the risks of online gaming addiction among early adolescents. For example, educators and practitioners could invest more effort into helping students with a low level of gratitude to form a closer connection with the school.

This study has some limitations that should be noted. We have provided empirical evidence to support cumulative knowledge about adolescent online gaming addiction in the Chinese context. However, we do recognize that early adolescence is a period in which friendships and other peer relationships have an increasing influence on the development of online gaming addiction (e.g., via peer pressure). Including peer relationships as influencing factors in future research could be helpful to understand the effect of the fuller range of relationships that adolescents have.

Second, our results are based on cross-sectional data. The associations we found between the key variables are, therefore, correlational and were recorded at a single time point, so we could not conclude causality. As other researchers have pointed out, mediation models emphasize the process of change, but cross-sectional models are limited as there is no change over time in cross-sectional data. Therefore, mediation analyses should be conducted in future with data from longitudinal studies. In addition, dependence on data from a self-report survey may have led to underestimation of the effect of stressful life experiences on online gaming addiction, as participants' self-reflection may not truly represent their life status. Future researchers should consider collecting data from multiple sources, such as parent/teacher reports and observations, to triangulate more accurate information.

Finally, we did not take into account the potential contribution of clusters, such as the characteristics of classrooms, neighborhoods, or districts, which may play a critical role in adolescents' school connectedness or online gaming addiction. Future researchers should consider collecting multilevel data to account for classroom-level or community-level effects and to conduct multilevel modeling.

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Universities' Philosophy and Social Science Research Fund in Hubei Province (18ZD032), the Chinese National Natural Science Fund (31600901, 31671154), and the Research Center for Rural Educational and Cultural Development in Hubei Key Research Base of Humanities and Social Sciences (2019-20JZ08).

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Chang Wei (1), Chengfu Yu (2), Wei Zhang (3)

(1) School of Education, Hubei University of Science and Technology, and Research Center for Rural Educational and Cultural Development, Key Research Base of Humanities and Social Sciences, Xianning, People's Republic of China

(2) School of Education, Guangzhou University, People's Republic of China

(3) School of Psychology, South China Normal University, People's Republic of China

CORRESPONDENCE Wei Zhang, School of Psychology, Southern China Normal University, 55 Zhongshan Avenue West, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, 510631, People's Republic of China. Email: zhangwei@scnu.edu.cn

https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.7942
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations of the Main Study
Variables

                              1           2           3

1. Gender (a)                 -
2. Age                        -.02        -
3. Socioeconomic status       -.05         -.15 (**)  -
4. Stressful life experience  -.07          .13 (**)  -.11 (**)
5. School connectedness        .01         -.01        .14 (**)
6. Gratitude                   .13 (**)     .04        .09 (*)
7. Online gaming addiction    -.27 (***)   -.01        .06
M                             0.54        10.54       0.00
SD                            0.50         0.96       1.57

                              4           5           6

1. Gender (a)
2. Age
3. Socioeconomic status
4. Stressful life experience  -
5. School connectedness       -.22 (***)  -
6. Gratitude                  -.14 (***)   .41 (***)  -
7. Online gaming addiction     .30 (***)  -.18 (***)  -.19 (***)
M                             1.19        3.65        5.25
SD                            0.82        0.79        1.13

                              7

1. Gender (a)
2. Age
3. Socioeconomic status
4. Stressful life experience
5. School connectedness
6. Gratitude
7. Online gaming addiction    -
M                             1.23
SD                            1.75

Note. (a) Gender was dummy coded such that 0 = boy and 1 = girl, and
the average reflects the proportion of girls. Socioeconomic status
comprised a single factor derived from principal components analysis of
the z scores of father's and mother's education levels (1 = never been
to school to 8 = doctorate or higher academic qualification), Because
the socioeconomic status variable was a composite derived from these z
scores, the mean of this variable was mathematically set to zero.
Family members' average monthly income (1 = less than or equal to
[yen]1,000.00/US $140 to 10 = more than [yen]9,000.00/US $1,280), with
higher scores indicating higher socioeconomic status.

(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001.

Table 2. Mediating Effect of Stressful Life Experience on Online Gaming
Addiction

                                         Equation 1
                                   (Endogenous variable:
                                  Online gaming addiction)
                                  b     SE           t

Stressful life experience          .28   0.04         7.32 (***)
Gratitude                         -.12   0.04        -3.22 (**)
School connectedness
Gratitude x School connectedness
Gender (a)                        -.46   0.08        -6.13 (***)
Age                               -.03   0.04        -0.85
Socioeconomic status               .05   0.02         2.18 (*)
[R.sup.2]                                 .17
F                                       24.97 (***)

                                        Equation 2
                                  (Endogenous variable:
                                  School connectedness)
                                  b     SE           t

Stressful life experience         -.16   0.04        -4.11 (***)
Gratitude                          .38   0.04        10.09 (***)
School connectedness
Gratitude x School connectedness
Gender (a)                        -.09   0.08        -1.14
Age                                .02   0.04         0.39
Socioeconomic status               .06   0.02         2.39 (*)
[R.sup.2]                                 .20
F                                       29.39 (***)

                                         Equation 3
                                   (Endogenous variable:
                                  Online gaming addiction)
                                  b     SE           t

Stressful life experience          .26   0.04         6.86 (***)
Gratitude                         -.09   0.04        -2.09 (*)
School connectedness              -.10   0.04        -2.28 (*)
Gratitude x School connectedness
Gender (a)                        -.47   0.08        -6.25 (***)
Age                               -.03   0.04        -0.82
Socioeconomic status               .06   0.02         2.40 (*)
[R.sup.2]                                 .18
F                                       21.83 (***)

                                        Equation 4
                                  (Endogenous variable:
                                  Online gaming addiction)
                                  b     SE           t

Stressful life experience          .27   0.04         7.03 (***)
Gratitude                         -.07   0.04        -1.81
School connectedness              -.09   0.04        -2.13 (*)
Gratitude x School connectedness   .09   0.03         2.70 (**)
Gender (a)                        -.46   0.07        -6.17 (***)
Age                               -.03   0.04        -0.83
Socioeconomic status               .06   0.02         2.50 (*)
[R.sup.2]                                 .19
F                                       19.96 (***)

Note. (a) Gender was dummy coded such that 0 = boy and 1 = girl.

(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001.
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Author:Wei, Chang; Yu, Chengfu; Zhang, Wei
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 1, 2019
Words:5222
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