There’s no question that most parents worry a bit when they see their kid’s eyed glued to a screen while playing video games for hours on end. In fact, a large 2022 survey in the US showed that 71% of kids aged 2-17 play video games, an increase of 4 percentage points since 2018.
There’s a lot of stigma around screen time in general let alone the “effects” on our kids when it comes to certain content in video games. While those are valid concerns, there might be some good news on the horizon for parents of video-playing kids.
A new study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health finds that gaming may help with both cognition and impulse control. It found that children who played video games for three or more hours a day out-performed children who didn’t play video games at all on tasks associated with memory and impulse control. The young gamers also had higher levels of activity in parts of the brain associated with attention and working memory.
Three hours a day!
The research gathered data from over 2,000 9- and 10-year-olds from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which a study following about 12,000 children in the country’s largest long-term study into brain development and child health.
This particular study divided the children into two groups: those who played video games for more than three hours a day and those who never gamed at all. Each group took two tests that measured impulse control and short-term memory while undergoing brain imaging. Lead author on the study — Bader Chaarani, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont — said the researchers noted factors like sex, age and socioeconomic status when it came to their results.
After the test results were in, the gamers performed better on both tests.
Not only did the avid video gamers perform better on the tests, but they “have more brain activations in regions linked with attention and working memory,” Charrani said.
“That was very nice to see, because it’s a way to explain why they performed better,” Chaarani explained.
While the study didn’t go into detail about what specific video games were being played, Chaarani noted that the majority of kids played more fast-paced shooter and action adventure games rather than slower-paced logic games.
It’s important to note that the results from the study do not prove that gaming makes your kid smarter. There is a possibility that kids who excel in those certain areas of cognitive ability just like to play video games.
“We're not demonstrating causation in this study,” Chaarani said.
But he did say that this was one of the first studies that looked at the positive side of excessive video gaming in kids. In fact, it could be argued that video games might be a better option when it comes to screen time than television watching.
“Our study suggests that video gaming is at least not worse than other screen time,” Chaarani said. “And it may even have some advantages.”
While no firm recommendations can be made at this time despite the interesting findings, this study may put some parents’ minds at ease who are wondering if all those video games are melting their kids’ brains.