Video games may bring cognitive benefits to children: study

By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter

(Health Day)

MONDAY, Oct. 24, 2022 (HealthDay News) — School-aged children who spend hours a day playing video games may outperform their peers on some tests of mental agility, according to a new study.

The researchers found that compared to children who had never played video games, those who regularly spent hours playing had higher scores on two standard cognitive tests: one measuring short-term memory and other measuring impulse control.

Experts have pointed out that the results do not prove that the game sharpens children’s minds. It could be that children who excel in certain mental tasks are attracted to video games.

“We do not demonstrate causation in this study,” said lead researcher Bader Chaarani, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

But, he added, past research on the potential effects of children’s video games has often focused on the negative: Is it related to problems like aggression, violence or depression?

Fewer studies have examined the possibility that video games, which require active mental engagement, may have some benefit, at least when compared to “passive” screen time like watching TV or browsing social media.

“Our study suggests that video games are at least no worse than other screen time,” Chaarani said. “And it may even have some benefits.”

The question of how much “screen time” is too much for children, and what content should be, has long been studied and debated. But now that kids are not only watching old-fashioned TV, but taking their own personal screens everywhere, the problem has only gotten worse.

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strict screen time limits for children under the age of 6.

With older children, things are murkier, in part because research is mixed on the possible harms or benefits of various forms of screen time. But the AAP insists that screens shouldn’t interfere with exercise and sleep: Older kids and teens should get at least one hour of physical activity a day and get enough sleep (8 to 12 hours, depending on their age).

To better understand how various exposures – including screen time – can affect brain development in older children, the US National Institutes of Health is conducting a study called ABCD.

It follows nearly 12,000 American school children, from 9 to 10 years old, and uses functional MRIs to examine their brain activity while carrying out various tasks.

For the current study, Chaarani’s team used publicly available data from this research project. They focused on more than 2,000 children, separated into two groups: video gamers who played at least three hours a day and children who had never played.

On average, researchers found that gamers scored higher on tasks measuring impulse control and working memory. The latter refers to the ability to temporarily hold information, such as asking for directions and remembering them until the destination is reached.

And while three hours a day is a lot of play, the study also found no evidence that these children were worse off in terms of mental health, rule breaking or attention problems.

However, the chicken and egg question remains, said Dr. Kirk Welker, associate professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

It’s possible that certain brain characteristics cause children to turn to video games, said Welker, who wrote a editorial published with the study.

He also pointed out that the cognitive tests performed during fMRI scans share similarities with video games: they are performed while a person lies in a scanner, looks at a display screen or uses video glasses and presses buttons. buttons on a portable device.

It’s possible, Welker said, that regular play inspires children to perform well in this type of setting.

He and Chaarani noted another key question. What role does the “genre” of the video game play? A military-style “shooter” game, an abstract visuospatial game, and a fantasy role-playing game are all different in the cognitive skills they engage and the emotional impact.

With those caveats in mind, Welker said one of the study’s strengths was its large size. It’s likely that the differences in task performance were real and not a chance finding, he said.

At this point, both experts said no recommendations can be made based on the results. And the study doesn’t prove that video games cause no harm, Welker pointed out.

Instead, he said, the picture is more complex.

“There may be some benefits of video games that we don’t fully understand yet,” Welker said. “But there are still large knowledge gaps in this area.”

The ABCD study follows children into adulthood. Chaarani said this will allow researchers to see if video gaming actually precedes any improvement in cognitive abilities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advice on children video game.

SOURCES: Bader Chaarani, PhD, professor of psychiatry, University of Vermont, Burlington; Kirk Welker, MD, associate professor, radiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Open JAMA Network, October 24, 2022, online

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