For Science: New study finds positive association between excessive gaming and kids’ cognition


Academics offered up another good reason to play video games this past October: A new study of around 2000 kids found that video game play was positively associated with performance in cognitive tests of impulse control and working memory.

The University of Vermont researchers on this paper analyzed a subset of 9- and 10-year-olds participating in an ongoing pediatric study by the US National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse with the goal of expanding research on the link between games and brain development beyond small-participant groups. Essentially, they compared groups of kids who reported never playing video games to groups of kids who played three or more hours a day (i.e., significantly more than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends even for older kids). What they found was that the kids who played a lot were quicker and more accurate at these cognitive tests and showed more brain activity in brain regions governing attention and memory than the non-gamer group.

“These findings suggest that video gaming may be associated with improved cognitive abilities involving response inhibition and working memory and with alterations in underlying cortical pathways,” the study concludes.

But maybe don’t go plop your kids down in front of just any old video game; the researchers do note that games span a wide variety of genres that aren’t equally interactive and may not have equal impact on cognition. “Future large studies investigating the association between video gaming and cognition would benefit from including game genre as a moderating variable in analyses,” the paper says. It also notes the difficulty of determining causation: “We cannot resolve whether mental health issues or brain function changes precede and drive video gaming or whether video gaming results in mental health symptoms or altered neuroplasticity.” As always, these papers build on what came before – and open the door for future studies.

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