Distinguishing Core from Peripheral Psychiatric Symptoms: Addictive and Problematic Internet Gaming in North America, Europe, and China (2018)

Cult Med Psychiatry. 2018 Nov 13. doi: 10.1007/s11013-018-9608-5.

Snodgrass JG1, Zhao W2, Lacy MG3, Zhang S4, Tate R5.


We explore the problem of distinguishing the relatively constant versus culturally variable dimensions of mental suffering and disorder in the context of a cross-cultural study of Internet gaming-related distress. We extend the conceptual contrast of “core” and “peripheral” symptoms drawn from game studies and use a framework that synthesizes cultural and neurobiological understandings of emotional distress. In our framework, “core” symptoms are relatively constant across cultures and therefore presumed to be more closely tied to a neurobiological base. By contrast, we treat as “peripheral” symptoms those that are more culturally variable, and thus less directly tied to the neurobiology of addiction. We develop and illustrate this approach with a factor analysis of cross-cultural survey data, resting on previous ethnographic work, through which we compare online gaming distress experienced in North America (n = 2025), Europe (n = 1198), and China (n = 841). We identify the same four-factor structure across the three regions, with Addiction always the first and most important factor, though with variability in regional factors’ exact item composition. The study aims to advance an integrative biocultural approach to distinguishing universal as opposed to culturally contingent dimensions of human suffering, and to help resolve debates about whether problem gaming represents a form of addiction.

KEYWORDS: Behavioral addictions; Cross-cultural research; Internet gaming disorder; Online computer games; Psychological and biocultural anthropology

PMID: 30426360

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-018-9608-5