Thursday, July 22, 2021

Smartphone gaming can be harmful for some seeking relief from boredom

A person plays a game on a smartphone.

Smartphone gaming can be harmful to players who game to escape their negative mood and feelings of boredom, a new study has found. 

Researchers at the University of Waterloo found that bored “escape players”—those who have difficulty engaging with the real environment and sustaining attention—may seek “flow,” which is a deep and effortless state of concentration in an activity linked to loss of awareness of time and space. 

“We found that people who experience intense boredom frequently in everyday life reported playing smartphone games to escape or alleviate these feelings of boredom,” said Chanel Larche, study lead author and a PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo. “The problem with this boredom ‘fix’ is that they end up playing whenever they are bored, and end up experiencing problems tied to excessive game play.

“During gameplay, players may achieve optimal arousal, engaged focus and attention and a reduction in feelings of monotony, but this heightened urge-to-play among escape players can have negative consequences and lead to excessive time gaming.”

Larche conducted this study with Waterloo’s cognitive neuroscience professor Michael Dixon. 

Using the popular smartphone game Candy Crush, Larche and Dixon had 60 participants with current level standings in the game between 77 and 3307 play at various difficulty levels from too easy—which meant there was a lack of skill-challenge balance, low flow and low arousal—to balanced, which was more challenging and that caused greater flow, arousal, less boredom and a stronger urge to continue gameplay. This was done to determine whether players would choose to continue playing a game where there was a balance of challenge and skill conducive to flow, rather than an easier game that would generate less flow. 

Their results confirmed that individuals who game to escape boredom by using smartphone games such as Candy Crush become more immersed in gameplay than non-escape players. However, when escape players find these games more rewarding as a relief from boredom, they may play more frequently and for longer periods. 

“Those who play to escape experience greater flow and positive affect than other players, which sets up a cycle of playing video games to elevate a depressed mood,” Dixon said. “This is maladaptive because, although it elevates your mood, it also increases your urge to keep playing. Playing too long may lead to addiction and means less time is available for other healthier pursuits. This can actually increase your depression.”

Larche says these findings might encourage game developers to consider implementing responsible video gaming tools directly within their games. For example, having a time-limit option to allow players to specify how long they wish to play could be helpful for players susceptible to problematic escape play. 

Co-authored by Dixon, the study, Winning isn’t everything: The impact of optimally challenging smartphone games on flow, game preference and individuals gaming to escape aversive bored states, appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. 

Call for participants in new saliva-based asymptomatic COVID-19 screening on campus

The saliva study drop box.

All students, faculty, and staff on campus, along with their families (aged 18+) are invited to participate in the Asymptomatic Saliva Testing Research at Waterloo (ASTRAW) project.

This project, led by Professors Trevor Charles and Jozef Nissimov from the Faculty of Science, aims to determine the feasibility of a new saliva-based rapid test for the early detection of COVID-19 on campus, and also track variants of concern in our community through virus genome sequencing.

If you are interested in participating, you can pick up a study kit outside of Biology 1 on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Participants are asked to provide a saliva sample twice a week, on their own time, and deposit it into the drop-off box on campus in the same location the kit was picked up from. Coordination of samples and testing is being done by the Waterloo Centre for Microbial Research (WCMR).

If a sample comes back positive, the participant will be contacted and encouraged to confirm the results at a certified Ontario provincial COVID-19 testing centre.

This study looks for the virus in saliva samples instead of the more common nasopharyngeal swab. It uses the same detection method as the nasopharyngeal swab (quantitative polymerase chain reactions, or qPCR) but the researchers will also sequence the virus genome. This will provide more information into the virus’s genetic material and will identify potential Variants of Concern that may be circulating in the campus community.

To find out more information, or to sign up and participate, visit the study website:

Saliva tests are still in development and are therefore research grade and not clinically diagnostic. It is not known yet how sensitive these tests are and whether they are as good or better than the conventional nasopharyngeal swab laboratory test performed at an approved provincial testing site.   

Your participation in this project will be very valuable and will help to not only mitigate potential outbreaks on campus, but also learn more about the genomic sequence of COVID-19 and its variants.  

This study has been reviewed by and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Board.

Online conference on aging and spirituality broadens international connections

A screenshot collage of conference Zoom presenters.

By Margaret Gissing. This article was originally published on the Conrad Grebel University College website.

This past June, scholars, practitioners, support workers, health care experts, and interested parties from across the globe gathered together virtually over the course of three weeks to advance the connections between spiritual practice and the effects of aging at the ninth International Conference on Aging and spirituality. Many health care support workers and religious/spiritual practitioners recognize the benefits to a broader approach of spiritual needs among all aging individuals and communities beyond end of life care, and recognize the diverse experiences of elder care around the world. The conference connected researchers with practitioners in a way that fosters community and advances this important intersection of care.

Originally started in Australia in 2000, the conference had previously been hosted in the UK, New Zealand, Scotland, and the USA. For 2021, the conference was to be held at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, ON, Canada, until the pandemic brought world travel and in-person events to a complete stop.

Jane Kuepfer, Schlegel Specialist in Spirituality and Aging at Grebel and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, worked with an established committee as the conference co-ordinator, to offer the conference online. “Many people were excited for the opportunity to participate in this conference virtually,” Kuepfer explained, “especially in the midst of pandemic, when they are longing for meaningful engagement.”

The decision created a version of the conference that connected more people from around the world simultaneously than in-person conferences had previously allowed for. “We certainly had more international participation than I would have expected in person – and good participation from older adults, who could conveniently use Zoom from home,” Kuepfer added. “Also, chaplains could participate without having to take time away from work.”

The modified three-week conference (normally three days) hosted seven 90-minute live presentations over Zoom, reaching participants across eight countries. The committee accepted twice as many abstracts as they had presentation room for, so 13 presenters pre-recorded their presentations for on demand viewing by attendees. The presenters represented six countries, including contributions from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel.

With this year’s theme of Vital Connections: Claiming voice and learning to listen, speakers covered topics of COVID-19 and pandemic care in elder spaces, moral injury, medicine and spiritual well being, workplace engagement, dementia, oral traditions in Afro-Indigenous communities, mental health, art interventions, and more. Participants also heard directly from elders, who were encouraged to send in 60 second clips describing what has helped them feel connected during the pandemic.

“Working internationally benefits the field of spirituality and aging immensely,” explained Kuepfer. “The conference has been an opportunity for researchers from a variety of disciplines, along with spiritual care practitioners, to collaborate – sharing observations and research findings and learning together about spiritual needs we hold in common across religions and cultures as we grow older. It’s also an opportunity to engage diverse resources, like the Australian Aboriginal practice of Dadirri, The Ba’al Shem Tov’s 3-step approach to unwelcome experiences (Jewish), or the use of storytelling and song by East African elders.”

Participants expressed their gratitude for the chance to expand their knowledge and connect with others passionate about this important and expansive area of care. “As spiritual care persons, we can feel very alone in our work,” noted a participant during the final live session. “It has been wonderful to be reminded that all over the world, we are a team making a difference and how important this work is.”

An in-person conference will take place in 2022 in Canada on Grebel’s campus, which will continue this year’s theme and discussions in person. While the conference has passed, recordings are still available. Those interested can register online to receive access to the recorded sessions, pre-recorded sessions, and posters until September 30, 2021. Registration and presentation information can be found at

Link of the day

10 years ago: massacre in Norway

When and Where to get support

Students can visit the Student Success Office online for supports including academic development, international student resources, leadership development, exchange and study abroad, and opportunities to get involved.

Instructors can visit the Keep Learning website to get support on adapting their teaching and learning plans for an online environment.

Course templates are available within your course in LEARN to help you build and edit your content and assignment pages quickly.

The following workshops, webinars, and events are offered by the KL team (CTE, CEL, ITMS, LIB):

Employees can access resources to help them work remotely, including managing University records and privacy of personal information. Here are some tips for staying healthy while working from home.

Stay informed about COVID cases on campus by consulting the COVID case tracker.

The Writing and Communication Centre has virtual services and programs to help undergrads, grad students, postdocs and faculty members with academic writing.

Co-op students can get help finding a job and find supports to successfully work remotely, develop new skills, access wellness and career information, and contact a co-op or career advisor.

The Centre for Career Action assists undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, and alumni through navigating career services that are right for them. You can attend a one-on-one appointment or same day drop-in session at the CCA for assistance with cover letter writing, career planning and much more. You can also book an appointment online or visit our Live Chat to connect with our Client Support Team. The CCA is here to help you.

If you feel overwhelmed or anxious and need to talk to somebody, please contact the University’s Campus Wellness services, either Health Services or  Counselling Services. You can also contact the University's Centre for Mental Health Research and TreatmentGood2Talk is a post-secondary student helpline available to all students.

The Library continues to offer virtual access to learning and research materials as well as through their book pickup and delivery services. Davis Centre Library study space is open by appointment Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special Collections & Archives can also be accessed by appointment. Library staff are available for questions via Ask Us. Full details of current service offerings can be found on their Services Updates page. The Library has also published a resource guide on how to avoid information overload.

The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the FAUW blog for more information.

The University of Waterloo Staff Association (UWSA) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the UWSA blog for more information.

The Indigenous Initiatives Office is a central hub that provides guidance, support, and resources to all Indigenous and non-Indigenous campus community members and oversees the university Indigenization strategy.

The Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre, based at St. Paul’s University College, provides support and resources for Indigenous students, and educational outreach programs for the broader community, including lectures, and events.

WUSA supports for students:

Peer support  - MATES, Glow Centre, RAISE, Women’s Centre - Visit to book an appointment

Bike Centre – Open via Appointments and Rentals

Campus Response Team, ICSN, Off Campus Community and Co-op Connection all available online. Check for more details.

Food Support Service food hampers are currently available from the Turnkey Desk on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Student Life Centre. If you have any questions please email us at

Centre for Academic Policy Support - CAPS is here to assist Waterloo undergraduates throughout their experience in navigating academic policy in the instances of filing petitions, grievances and appeals. Please contact them at caps@wusa.caMore information is available.

WUSA Commissioners who can help in a variety of areas that students may be experiencing during this time:

WUSA Student Legal Protection Program - Seeking legal counsel can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time facing a legal issue. The legal assistance helpline provides quick access to legal advice in any area of law, including criminal. Just call 1-833-202-4571

Empower Me is a confidential mental health and wellness service that connects students with qualified counsellors 24/7. They can be reached at 1-833-628-5589.

When and Where (but mostly when)

Healthy Warriors at Home (Online Fitness)

Fitness Classes (CIF GYM 3). Power Yoga, HIIT and Zumba. Only $4/class. Advanced registration required.

Warrior Rec Open Recreation. During the week of July 19, the following spaces will start to be open for reservations: CIF Gym 1, CIF Gym 2, Field House, PAC Pool, Squash Courts and CIF Fitness Centre. Advanced Reservations required.

Warriors vs. Laurier Blood Donation Battle. Join your fellow Warriors, donate blood and help us win the Blood Battle against Laurier for a second year in a row. Set up a profile or add the PFL code: UNIV960995 to your account if you have a account already. Questions? Contact

Drop-in to Warrior Virtual Study Halls on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Come together in this virtual space to set goals and work independently or in groups each week.

Renison English Language Institute continues to offer virtual events and workshops to help students practice their English language skills.

CrySP Speaker Series on Privacy, "Digital fitness instead of blame and entrapment: re-framing "security awareness," featuring Angela Sasse, Ruhr Universität Bochum, Friday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. Zoom link.

Warrior Rec Intramural Tournaments. Beach Volleyball, Saturday, July 24, Soccer, Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25, and Ultimate Frisbee, Sunday, Sunday, July 25. Advanced Registration required.

Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference (CUTC), Saturday, July 24, 10:00 a.m. to Sunday July 25, 7:00 p.m., a student organized remote tech conference featuring talks from the President of Shopify, CEO of Replit, Head of Growth at Notion, and more. Open to everyone. Free registration.

UWSA Open Consultation Session - Updated MOA, Tuesday, July 27, 12 noon.

President's Forum, Tuesday, July 27, 1:00 p.m.

PhD oral defences

Physics & Astronomy. Matthew Robbins, “Quantum Information across Spacetime: From Gravitational Waves to Spinning Black Holes.” Supervisor(s), Robert Mann, Niayesh Afshordi. Thesis available by request from SGO – Oral defence Monday, July 26, 9:00 a.m.

Pure Mathematics. Ragini Singhal, "Deformation theory of nearly G2-structures and nearly G2 instantons." Supervisors, Benoit Charbonneau, Spiro Karigiannis. Thesis available from MGO - Oral defence Thursday, July 29, 9:30 a.m.

Computer Science. SeyedErshad Banijamali, "Prediction and Planning in Dynamical Systems with Underlying Markov Decision Processes." Supervisor, Ali Ghodsi. Thesis available from MGO - Oral defence Friday, July 30, 9:00 a.m.

Chemistry. Hua Fan, “Self-assembled gold nanochains based materials as building blocks to fabricate flexible devices and as electrocatalysts.” Supervisor, Vivek Maheshwari. Thesis available by request from SGO – Oral defence Tuesday, August 3, 9:30 a.m.

Recreation and Leisure Studies. Luc Cousineau, "Foul Feminism, Bad Betas, and Precarious Privilege: Discourses of masculinity in two reddit men’s communities." Supervisor, Corey Johnson. Email Health Graduate Administration for a copy. Oral defence Tuesday, August 3, 10:00 a.m.