Could video games boost a child’s intelligence?

By Dennis Thompson
health day reporter

THURSDAY, May 19, 2022 (HealthDay News) — People often believe video games rot a child’s mind, but a new study claims the opposite may be true.

Kids might actually get a brain boost from playing video games hours after hours, researchers report.

American children aged 9 to 10 who spent more time playing video games experienced a significant increase in their intelligence scores when retested two years later, an additional 2.5 IQ points above average.

“The children who played the most video games were the ones who had gained the most intelligence after two years,” the researchers concluded in their article, recently published in the journal Scientific reports. “This is evidence of a beneficial causal effect of video games on cognition.”

Other forms of screen time — watching videos or chatting on social media — had no positive or negative effects on a child’s intelligence, the researchers found. The study received no funding from the video game industry.

“We didn’t examine the effects of screen behavior on physical activity, sleep, well-being, or academic performance, so we can’t say anything about this,” said lead researcher Torkel. Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a press release from the institute.

“But our results support the claim that screen time generally does not impair children’s cognitive abilities and that playing video games may in fact help boost intelligence,” Klingberg said. “This is consistent with several experimental studies on video gaming.”

Higher scores

For this study, Klingberg and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 9,000 boys and girls participating in a long-term US-funded study of brain development and child health.

At the age of 9 to 10, the children underwent a battery of psychological tests to assess their general brain power. They were also asked how much time they spent watching television and videos, playing video games and interacting with social media.

On average, children spent 2.5 hours a day watching TV, half an hour on social media and an hour playing video games.

Two years later, just over 5,000 of the children repeated the psychological tests, to see how their intelligence had changed.

The results showed that children who played video games for more than an hour daily had higher intelligence scores than those who spent less time with a gamepad.

This increase remained significant even after the researchers took into account other factors such as differences in household income and parental education.

Active vs Passive

Video games could make children smarter by making them think, providing them with “enriched” environments that challenge them to tackle tasks they might not encounter in their daily lives, says Dr Anish Dube , member of the American Psychological Association’s Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families.

“Playing video games often requires active strategy, planning and decision-making,” said Dube, who was not part of the study.

“The more someone practices or plays these video games, the more they strengthen the neural pathways involved in achieving game goals – and those same neural pathways may be involved in other types of real-world decision-making that influence our measures of intelligence,” he said.

Similarly, TV watching and social media engagement are more passive forms of screen time that don’t require as much brain work, said Dube, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and of Charles R. Drew Science in Los Angeles.

“By design, video games require focus and attention to the content being presented and strategy in the moment, whereas it’s easy to watch something on TV without paying much attention to the content. “Dube said. “If you watch a segment on TV and miss something, you don’t ‘lose’ and can always deduct the missed parts based on the remaining narrative. That would be harder to do with video games.”

Dube noted that the study does not address the interaction, if any, of these factors with the emotional and mental health of young people – something that interests him as a psychiatrist.

“Is video gaming correlated with better mental health after two years? Is improved intelligence also correlated with improved mental health? he said.

Giving children options

Another child development expert agreed that a closer look at mental health might be needed.

Dr. Damon Korb said the study was designed to look only at potential positive benefits related to intelligence. It did not take into account the possible negative health effects of video games that have been found in other research – an increased risk of depression and anxiety in gamers; impediment to launch in adulthood; as well as physical illnesses such as obesity.

“Clinical experience shows that significant negative effects are also associated with gambling,” said Korb, who directs the Center for Developing Minds in Los Gatos, Calif. “I think everyone should exercise caution looking at these results.”

And he pointed out that if you want your kids to get smarter, video games aren’t the only option.

The study authors “do not compare the game to things like playing chess or piano lessons or table tennis, all of which have studies indicating positive cognitive benefits as well,” Korb noted. “And on top of that, the games are designed to be addictive — they’re designed for kids to sit down and do more and more, and that’s potentially dangerous and unhealthy.

Still, Dube praised the study for attempting “to take a more nuanced approach to measuring the effect of screen time on young people, rather than treating all screen time as a homogeneous stimulus with the same universal effect”.

But he agreed that parents should closely monitor the type and quality of their children’s screen time.

“If some form of screen time seems to have a positive effect on a youngster’s well-being, parents should remain open and curious about it, in the same way as if they were starting to notice it. there’s a detrimental effect of some screen time on their child,” Dube noted.

“As children grow, their developmental needs change, and likely also the amount and quality of screen time they will benefit from or harm them,” he said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics says more about creating a family media plan.

SOURCES: Anish Dube, MD, MPH, associate professor, psychiatry, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles; Karolinska Institute, press release, May 12, 2022; Damon Korb, MD, director, Center for Developing Minds, Los Gatos, Calif.; Scientific reportsMay 12, 2022

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