Children who play video games are MORE intelligent than their peers, study suggests

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Parents often think of them as a waste of time, but playing video games may actually boost children’s intelligence.

A study found those who game for three or more hours a day on average performed better in cognitive and memory tests than their peers.

Gaming has long been associated with violence, antisocial behaviors and health problems in young people. 

But researchers have found it may actually be beneficial for the brain development of children.

Youngsters had their brains scanned while they performed a series of tests that tested their reaction time, problem solving and memory.

Not only did the children achieve better scores, they also had more activity in regions of the brain responsible for each function.  

Dr Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which funded the study, said: ‘Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior and mental health problems. 

‘This study suggests that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime, which are worthy of further investigation.’

Researchers found children aged nine to ten who played three or more hours a day on average performed better in cognitive and memory tests (file photo)

Researchers found children aged nine to ten who played three or more hours a day on average performed better in cognitive and memory tests (file photo)

More than six in ten children in the US and UK are estimated to play video games.

In the study — published today in the journal JAMA Network Open — scientists at the University of Vermont analyzed data from 2,078 American children.

Children were asked how long they spent playing video games every day, and then were then divided into two groups.

In total, 1,278 said they never played video games, while 800 reported using them for at least three hours a day.

Gaming ‘can be DEADLY for children’ 

They’re popular for getting adrenaline pumping, while carrying none of the risk of war.

But playing action-packed games like Call of Duty can be deadly for children with heart conditions, scientists warn.

Electronic gaming can kick-start life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias in children with no history of health problems, a landmark study has found. 

Experts said adrenalin surges from the excitement of playing can prove lethal to some youngsters with often-undiagnosed heart problems.

Researchers from The Heart Centre for Children, Sydney, Australia, studied the cases of 22 children who suffered with sudden loss of consciousness while playing video games.

They found multiplayer war gaming was the most frequent trigger, resulting in an ’emotionally charged’ state amongst players.

Some children having died following a cardiac arrest with several heart rhythm conditions later diagnosed, putting the surviving children at continued risk if they kept playing.

For comparison, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) says children should not game for more than two hours a day.

Every child was given a functional MRI scan to measure their brain activity.

In the scan, participants lay face-up in a long tubular magnet wearing a digital pair of goggles similar to a VR headset.

They completed two tests, which were shown to them using the goggles.

In the first — known as a stop-signal task — participants watched for arrows that were pointing left or right, pressing a corresponding button when they saw them.

They were also told to not press anything when they were shown an arrow that was pointing upwards.

In the second — known as an ‘n-back’ test —, children were asked to memorize an image of a building and then press a button when they saw a match for it in a stream of cards they were shown.

In the arrow test response times were significantly faster among gamers compared to non-gamers.

It took 307 milliseconds (ms) for non-gamers to stop when they were shown an upwards facing arrow on average, compared 299ms for non-gamers.

They also took about 550ms to press the right button after seeing an arrow facing left or right, compared to 515ms in the gamers group.  

In the image test non-gamers took 1070ms to hit the button saying they had seen a match, while gamers took 1021ms.

There are 1,000 milliseconds in one second.

Scans showed children who played video games had more activity in the precuneus region of the brain on average — associated with attention and memory.

They also had more activity in the gyri — which can also be associated with suppressing impulses — than those in the non-gaming group.

The researchers said playing the games may improve attention and impulse control because the games require practicing these skills.

The above graph shows response times among gamers (orange) and non-gamers (blue). Graph A shows the time taken to stop in a test, while graph B shows the time taken to take an action after being shown a particular stimulus. Graph D shows the time taken to declare a match after being shown an image that matches another that they needed to memorize

The above graph shows response times among gamers (orange) and non-gamers (blue). Graph A shows the time taken to stop in a test, while graph B shows the time taken to take an action after being shown a particular stimulus. Graph D shows the time taken to declare a match after being shown an image that matches another that they needed to memorize

The above is the stop signal task test. At the top, it shows how the scientists were aiming to measure the time taken from being shown a cue — an arrow pointing left or right — to that taken to press the corresponding button. In the second test they measured the time taken for children to stop when being shown an upwards pointing arrow

The above is the stop signal task test. At the top, it shows how the scientists were aiming to measure the time taken from being shown a cue — an arrow pointing left or right — to that taken to press the corresponding button. In the second test they measured the time taken for children to stop when being shown an upwards pointing arrow

Dr Bader Chaarani, a psychiatrist at Vermont University who led the study, said: ‘Many parents today are concerned about the effect of video games on their children’s health and development.

‘As these games continue to proliferate among young people it’s crucial we better understand both the positive and negative impact such games may have.’

He added: ‘While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neuro-cognitive performance, it’s an encouraging finding and one we must continue to investigate in these children as they transition into adolescence and adulthood.’

The study was observational, meaning it could not prove whether the enhanced intelligence was down to video games or another factor.

It also did not break down games by categories — like action or strategy — or whether they were single player or multiplayer, which may impact results.

Children were recruited for the study from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (ABCD), which is tracking children to study impacts on brain development.

Data was analyzed between October 2019 and October 2020.



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