A few months ago you could hardly take a step outside without seeing people staring with intense concentration at their phones as they tried to catch a rare Pokémon. The popular Pokémon Go game was often referred to jokingly as a distraction and a cause of trespassing as people strained to “catch ‘em all.” Yet, several graduate students at the University of Wisconsin wondered whether there might be some positive impacts to playing a game that encourages physical activity and socialization.
In a recently published study, James Alex Bonus and his colleagues examined whether playing Pokémon Go makes people happier or contributes to other positive psychological effects. Shortly after the game was launched, the researchers conducted an online survey of 400 adults asking about their mood, social relationships, level of physical activity, and whether or not they played Pokémon Go. 40% of those who responded reported that they played Pokémon Go.
The researchers found a correlation between playing Pokémon Go and increased positive emotions, friendship formation, friendship intensification, and walking. That is, people who are playing Pokémon Go are happier and more active, with stronger friendships. Interestingly, survey respondents who reported social anxiety were just as likely to play Pokémon Go as survey respondents who were not anxious. However, the researchers did find that, for highly anxious participants, the correlation between playing Pokémon Go and increased happiness was less strong.
Nevertheless, these results suggest that playing an interactive game like Pokémon Go is a way to promote socializing and physical activity. For people who are socially anxious, it may be a less anxiety-inducing way to interact with other people. For those who are depressed, it can be a way to encourage mood-boosting physical activity and social interaction. Just make sure not to trespass into private property when you play!