IQ and mental health may improve in children who play video games, latest study shows

Parents often worry about the harmful impact of video games on their children, from mental health and social problems to lack of exercise. However, the latest study shows that juniors who play video games could benefit.

A new study conducted in America that was published in JAMA Network Open shows that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with the popular way to relax and have fun. Lead author Bader Chaarani, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, told AFP he was naturally drawn to the topic as an avid gamer with a background in neuroimaging.

Previous research has focused on harmful effects, linking gaming with depression and increased aggression. But these studies have been limited by their relatively small numbers of participants, especially those involving brain imaging, Charaani said.

For the new research, Chaarani and colleagues analyzed data from the large, ongoing study of adolescent brain cognitive development (ABCD), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. They analyzed survey responses, cognitive test results, and brain images from about 2,000 nine- and 10-year-olds, who were divided into two groups: those who never played games and those who played three or more hours a day.

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This threshold was chosen because it exceeds the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time of one or two hours of video games. Each group was assessed in two tasks, so the first involved watching arrows pointing left or right, with children asked to press left or right as fast as they could.

Children playing video games may have cognitive benefits

They have also been told not to press anything if they see a “stop” signal, to measure how well they can control their impulses. In the second task, they were shown people’s faces and then asked whether or not a later image displayed matched in a test of their working memory.

After using statistical methods to control for variables that might bias the results, such as parental income, IQ, and mental health symptoms, the team found that the video players performed consistently better on both tasks.

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As they completed the tasks, the children’s brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Video gamers’ brains showed more activity in regions associated with attention and memory.

“The results raise the intriguing possibility that video games provide a cognitive training experience with measurable neurocognitive effects,” the authors concluded in their paper.

At present, it is not known whether spending more hours in front of a video game comes with greater cognitive performance, as Chaarani stated. The team hopes to get a clearer answer as the study continues and looks at the same children but at older ages.

This will also help rule out other potential factors at play, such as children’s home environment, exercise and sleep quality. Future studies could also benefit from recognizing which type of game children respond better to, even if at age 10 they prefer action games like Fortnite or Assassin’s Creed.

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