October 26, 2022


Children who played video games for three hours or more a day performed better in tests of cognitive skills, including impulse control and working memory, according to research released Monday.

The study of nearly 2,000 children was conducted by researchers from the University of Vermont in Burlington and sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other institutions of the National Institutes of Health and is part of an ongoing study on adolescent cognitive development.

According to the NIDA, several studies have examined the relationship between video gaming and cognitive behavior. Nevertheless, only a handful of neuroimaging studies have addressed the topic, and the sample size in those studies was small, with less than 80 participants.

Vermont researchers examined cognitive and brain-imaging data from nine- and 10-year-olds participating in the large Adolescent Cognitive Development Study. The study subjects were divided into two groups — those who never played video games and those who played for three hours or more a day.

The researchers rated each group on two tasks that assessed their ability to control impulsive behavior and remember information, as well as their brain activity while performing the tasks. The scientists found that video gamers were faster and more accurate at tasks than non-players.

They discovered higher brain activity in areas of the brain associated with attention and memory, and in frontal brain regions associated with more cognitively demanding tasks.

Less brain activity was found in brain regions related to vision. Researchers believe that there may be less activity in visual areas because repeated play practice causes the brain to become more efficient at visual processing.

calming words for parents

One of the study’s authors, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, Badar Charani, said, “There’s a lot of published work that says that video games are associated with negative mental health and cognitive outcomes, which can lead to parents playing their children’s video games.” worry about.”

“We’re seeing heavy video game players — three or more hours a day — and we’re not seeing any association with negative outcomes,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So the message for parents is to be less worrying, and may actually benefit from video gaming.”

Although the study did not find an association between video gaming and the depression, violence, and aggressive behavior found in other studies, it did find that game players report higher mental health and behavioral issues than non-players.

However, the researchers noted that the finding was not statistically significant, meaning they could not tell whether the issues were related to game play or just chance.

“I don’t think video gaming can affect some children’s cognitive skills, because it can help them become more sensitive and attentive to certain subjects,” said Mark N. Venna, president and principal analyst at SmartTech Research. San Jose, Calif.

“But there is also the possibility that certain types of violent video game content may improve cognitive skills at the expense of desensitization, which would be bad for children and society,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s not a simple topic,” said Michael Goodman, director of TV and digital media strategies at Strategy Analytics, an international research, advisory and analytics firm.

“You can’t paint the entire video game industry with one broad brush,” he told TechNewsWorld. “There are aspects of video games that are positive and negative for children. A game can improve your cognitive skills while at the same time making you vulnerable to violence.”

balance imperative

“I think the results of this study are very promising and give us solid data that playing video games can have a positive and meaningful impact on children’s cognitive abilities and performance,” said Dr. Lynn E. Feelin said. University School of Medicine.

“I believe parents will see this as important and valuable findings, considering how many children play video games,” she told TechNewsWorld. Feelin is also director of the play2PREVENT lab at Yale, which works on developing video games targeting important health outcomes in teens.

“We believe and have demonstrated that well-developed and evidence-based video games can positively affect children and adolescents through cognitive training,” she said. “This recent study provides complementary data to support what we have observed.”

As beneficial as video games can be, those benefits can be muted by too much of a good thing. “I think spending too much time on the exclusion of other activities that are important to childhood and adolescence are some of the downsides associated with children playing video games,” Feilin acknowledged.

“Balance is important,” she continued. “But I think we have shown, and this recent study further demonstrated, many positive features and benefits of playing video games.”

NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow agreed that balance is key.

“Video gaming can lead young people to neglect other activities, such as doing homework, going to sleep, and having social interactions, which are extraordinarily important for their brain development,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“Like anything, it’s a question of balance,” she agreed. “The lesson we have to learn is how we can optimize video gaming technology to develop tools that can be applied to maximize the improvement of one’s various cognitive skills.”

need more granularity

One of the study’s shortcomings is that the researchers had no data on the style of games played by the video players.

“We need to study this in more detail,” Volkow said. “There are a wide variety of video games. In this particular study, they do not address those differences.”

“You can have a game that is maximizing people shooting. That will improve your reaction time. It will speed you up a lot,” she explained. “Or you can have a video game where you have to escape. There may be a need for a route. It’s going to enhance your memory.”

“We have no granularity in this study as to whether there were tasks-related differences in the types of video games these children were using,” he said.

There will be time to gather that information as the larger cognitive study follows participants into their twenties.

“We plan to follow them in the coming years, and we will have more information about the games they are playing,” Charani said. “For now, we’re seeing this improvement regardless of the type of game they’re playing.”

“It will be interesting to find out whether we still see these benefits as these kids get older,” Volkow said.