Trying to convince your kids to ditch the video games and head outside for some good old-fashioned fun? Then don't let them hear about the results of this new study.
New research finds gaming might not be as horrible for kids as we've long thought. In fact, the results found that video games have positive effects on young children.
These results come from a recent study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Here's what the researchers found: Kids who log several hours a week gaming have better cognitive and social skills than those who don't. What's more, the study found these young gamers tend have fewer psychological problems than their non-gaming peers.
How the study was conducted
Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Paris Descartes University collaborated on this study.
These 13 researchers analyzed the video game-playing habits of kids in six European countries. They assessed than 3,000 children, ages 6 to 11. Parents and teachers assessed kids' mental health using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Children assessed their own mental health using the Dominic Interactive. Parents reported their children's video game usage, and teachers reported their academic performance.
Twenty percent of the kids played video games for at least five hours a week. Those kids performed better academically, had stronger social skills and had fewer psychological problems. Those who spent less than five hours each week wielding a video game controller each week did not score as well.
Digging into the data and adjusting it for age, gender and other factors, the results proved that more active gamers had:
- 1.75x the odds of high intellectual functioning
- 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence
The positive effects of video games
How is it that video games might actually be a good thing for kids? Here's some rationale behind the results:
1. Top academic performance
The belief that video games fry kids' brains and leads to poor academic performance is largely anecdotal. There's actually no hard evidence to prove this fact.
Gabe Zichermann, an entrepreneur and author whose work focuses on gamification, dedicated a TEDxKids@Brussels talk to this topic. He claims that video games not only make kids smarter, but also help them become better better problem-solvers.
Zichermann describes how video games offer a continuous feedback loop, keeping players on their toes and in a constant state of learning. Though kids might look completely zoned out as they're pressing buttons on the controller, their brains are hard at work problem solving and multi-tasking their way through the game.
2. Better social skills
Kids play some video games solo, but others are a team sport. Kids play together as a group, teaming up and cooperating together -- even in violent first-person shooting games. Learning teamwork is a valuable skill that will serve kids well as they mature, no matter what field their future selves land in.
"These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community," said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, one of the researchers who is the assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.
This isn't the first study to reveal positive social benefits of video games. John Velez, an assistant professor of journalism and electronic media in the College of Media & Communication, found that people who cooperated with other players in video games comported themselves better in real-life social situations, too.
"Generally, people playing cooperatively seemed to really focus on and value those relationships that are going on when they are playing," Velez said when the study was released. "They focus more on the social aspects and focus less on the violence and aggression. It's more important to them to think about how they're interacting with other people
3. Improved mental health
Game designer and author Jane McGonigal believes very strongly in the positive healing power of video games on the brain. When she suffered a traumatic brain injury, she created a game to help herself heal. McGonigal argues that gaming activates parts of the brain that remain dormant when people are suffering from depression. She's even proposed that soldiers should play Tetris within six hours after trauma to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder.
When people play video games, they have a "real sense of optimism in our abilities and our opportunities to get better and succeed, and more physical and mental energy to engage with difficult problems," TIME quoted McGonigal saying. "That is actually the physiological and psychological state of game play."
Time to increase video game screen time?
The researchers didn't go so far as to recommend more video game time for kids. In their results, they simply concluded this: "Playing video games may have positive effects on young children." They encouraged further research on the topic.
Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, warned against extrapolating the results. "We caution against over interpretation," she said in a release announcing the results. "Setting limits on screen usage remains an important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success."