Further proof that just because you or your children sit around playing games doesn’t mean all is lost. It could help you get smarter!
The new findings challenge the fears that parents have been hearing for decades, dating back to the days of Atari and Dendy. They say that children who play video games for hours or choose to play specific genres of games will show unhealthy abnormalities in their cognitive abilities. You’ve probably heard or read something like this:
- “If you play shooting games for hours, only violence will come to mind!”
- “Video games suppress the hippocampus and cause depression.”
- “Gaming slows the development of the frontal lobes of the brain – responsible for human behavior, memory, emotions, and learning.”
- “Computer games lead to degeneration of frontal lobes.”
These and other headlines can be seen online – in the English segment. Concerned parents in many countries are trying to ban video games altogether. They are almost universally believed to hinder a child’s development, especially if you play them a lot. Some countries not long ago introduced a limit on the number of hours you can play under the age of 18. But they certainly won’t have any frontal lobe degradation!
If you (or someone you know) are worried about this too – you can quote them back to a study published late last year in Media Psychology. In it, a team of scientists from the States tested what brain changes can happen in children who play video games. And, as Jie Zhang, one of the project leaders, writes: “No significant links were found, regardless of how long the children played or what types of games they preferred.”
The researchers studied 160 fifth-graders who actively played games on computers and smartphones. Among them, 70% were from low-income families, and 30% were from middle- and high-income families. They chose fifth graders because their brains are at their most active stage of development. The participating children were found to play for an average of 2.5 hours a day. And the most enthusiastic gamers sat in front of screens for five hours daily.
The scientists tried to find the connection between the increased time spent playing games and changes in the subject’s brains. They did this using results from CogAT, a cognitive skills test that has been in use in America since 1954. It allows a complete assessment of non-verbal, verbal, quantitative, and spatial skills. It is often used, for example, by teachers and professors in schools and universities to decide whether to enroll applicants in programs for the gifted. Organizations like Intertel also use these tests to find and invite people with exceptionally high IQs.
But the main thing that attracted researchers was that the CogAT is standardized. Unlike all other tests, it allows a realistic comparison of a subject’s skills. Previously, similar studies attempting to link brain activity and video games have used children’s grades at school or even the subjects themselves (those. how smart they think they are) to test “brain development level.”
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The problem is that both are highly subjective. If teachers, on average, like students who constantly talk about games at recess less, they might (unconsciously) give them lower marks. Children who continuously sit through games may have lower self-esteem or simply like their school and lessons less. And the CogAT tests cannot be fooled.
Ultimately, there was no difference between those who didn’t play, those who played for an average of 2.5 hours, and those who ‘gamified’ for 5 hours a day. The average results on the cognitive ability tests they showed were generally the same.
In the paper there, the scientists write it this way:
Overall, neither the duration of games nor the choice of a particular genre significantly correlated with CogAT scores. Despite what some scientists have previously suggested, this suggests with some confidence that there is no direct link between video games and a child’s cognitive ability.
Such news may even disappoint some gamers. Previously, some other work has shown that video games can improve children’s motor skills, reaction time, and especially hand-eye coordination. But the new creation has yet to find a discernible trend toward this. Although if you play Microsoft Flight Simulator all day, you’re a little more likely to land a plane in a crash than the average person. And if you’re in a guild with foreigners in World of Warcraft, you’ll learn a few new words for yourself.
There’s more negative news for gamer parents. Certain types of games claiming to “help children improve cognitive skills” have had no tangible effect either. These “developmental” video games did not yield meaningful bonuses for those who spent nearly daily with them. Researchers believe they may be helpful for older people with memory and motor skills problems who have no other regular exercise. But school-age children have enough daily stimulus as it is.
Our new study shows that the different types of games that appear to improve cognitive function in adults do not have the same effect on primary school-aged children.
But it does mean that we can all safely continue to play. No need to worry that anything negative will happen to your brain or your children’s brains. The clickbait headlines causing panic have nothing to do with the actual data.
Experts warn that time spent playing games cannot be recovered in their work. And they have observed that the most avid “gamers” among their subjects are often distracted by other, more productive activities – homework. They don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done and still play for five hours at a time.
But even in these cases, there was no difference between the participants’ cognitive ability level and their peers. So the only downside is how much time it takes – time that could be spent studying or developing essential skills. The results show that parents don’t need to worry much about cognitive impairment in children who like video games. Just ensure it doesn’t become a compulsive behavior and take up valuable time from other activities.
All in all, another confirmation that it’s not worth worrying about, even though finding balance is essential, as it is in everything. If the child (or adult) is interested in anything other than play, their brain development will be fine.