Story at a glance
- In the past, research on video games and children tended to focus on the potential detrimental effects of the hobby.
- New research published in JAMA Network Open suggests playing video games could be good for children’s cognitive performance.
- Those who played at least three hours each day scored higher on two cognitive tests compared with children who didn’t play video games.
Amid an ever-growing set of studies detailing the negative effects of video games and screen time on adolescent health, a new investigation offers some good news for young gamers.
Children who play video games for at least three hours a day may have better cognitive performance than those who never play the games, according to research published Monday in JAMA Network Open.
However, authors stress more data are needed to better understand any potential harms or benefits video games may have on children’s developing brains.
Findings are based on a study of nearly 2,000 children, marking the largest investigation ever conducted to asses the association between video games, cognition, and brain function.
The investigation was carried out as part of the national Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, which receives support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neurocognitive performance, it is an encouraging finding, and one that we must continue to investigate in these children as they transition into adolescence and young adulthood,” said lead study author Bader Chaarani in a release.
“Many parents today are concerned about the effects of video games on their children’s health and development, and as these games continue to proliferate among young people, it is crucial that we better understand both the positive and negative impact that such games may have.”
Specifically, children who played video games scored higher on cognitive skill tests that measured impulse control and working memory. In general, they were faster and more accurate on both tests measured.
Children who played video games also demonstrated more brain activity in regions associated with attention and memory than those who didn’t play the games.
All children included in the study were either nine or ten years old and completed surveys about how much time they spent playing video games. Researchers collected cognitive and brain imaging data, in part by conducting MRIs.
The three-hour-per-day threshold for video game playing was selected because it exceeds the American Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines, authors said. For older children, the group recommends one to two hours of video game playing per day.
Data also showed the gamers had more brain activity in regions linked with cognitively demanding tasks, and less activity in areas associated with vision.
Authors hypothesize this could be due to the cognitively demanding nature of some video games. Lower activity in visual areas among gamers could indicate this brain region might become more efficient at visual processing thanks to repeated practice from playing video games.
But the study did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship. Children who are already good at the cognitive tasks measured may just choose to spend more time playing video games.
Although the video game type was not assessed in the study, this factor could also affect findings.
“Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior and mental health problems,” said NIDA director Nora Volkow. “This study suggests that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime, which are worthy of further investigation.”