Many studies have reported associations between video gaming and increases in depression, violence, and aggressive behavior. However, a recent study of nearly 2,000 children has now found that those playing video games for three hours per day or more performed better on cognitive skills related to impulse control and working memory compared to children who never played video games.
“This study adds to our growing understanding of the associations between playing video games and brain development,” said study co-author Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). “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.”
The researchers analyzed survey, cognitive, and brain imaging data from about 2,000 participants in the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which aims to understand the factors that influence brain, cognitive, and social-emotional development, in order to help devising interventions to enhance young people’s life trajectories. They separated the participants into two groups – those reporting playing no video games versus those playing such games for three or more hours daily, and evaluated their performance on two cognitive tasks that reflected their capacity to control impulsive behavior and to memorize information, as well as their brain activity while performing these tasks.
The analysis revealed that the children playing video games were faster and more accurate on both tasks and showed higher activity in areas of the brain associated with attention and memory, as well as in the frontal lobes, which play a fundamental role in the performance of cognitively demanding tasks. Although some of the children playing video games reported higher mental health and behavioral issues compared to those who played no video games, this association did not appear to be statistically significant.
“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 study lead author Bader Chaarani, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont. “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.”
The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
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