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Video gaming improves cognitive performance in children

In a recent study, children who played video games had greater brain activity compared with those who did not play video games.

Video games improve cognitive performance in children, developing the visual, attention, and memory processing cortex of the brain, according to a recent study.

Following the growth of video games in the past 20 years, parents have expressed concern over their children spending hours playing video games, leading to potential adverse effects on cognition, mental health, and behavior. In a 2022 survey, 71% of United States children aged 2 to 17 years played video games. This is a 4% increase compared to results from 2018.

Substantial brain development takes place throughout childhood and adolescence, leading investigators to study the association between video games and mental health and cognition. Certain studies have linked video gaming to greater chances of depression, violence, and aggressive behavior.

Despite negative associations, researchers have not determined whether video gaming affects brain function. There have also been indications that video gaming can improve cognitive flexibility, as perceptual and attentional demands of video games can be applied to skills such as reaction time, logic, problem solving, and creativity.

Prior reviews have associated video gaming with attention benefits and improvement in working memory. Task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown more brain activity in those who have played video games compared to those who have not.

To evaluate the effect of video gaming on cognitive performance, researchers conducted a case-control study. Data was taken from the baseline assessment of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study in 2019, containing a large sample of children aged 9 and 10 years.

Children in the study answered questions on how many hours per week they spent playing games on a console, computer, smart phone, or other device. They were also asked about different types of screentime, such as watching a movie, texting, and visiting social media sites.

For these other activities, participants answered how long they spent engaged in them per day. Most participants answered “none” for texting, social networking, and video chatting categories, which was standard for this age group.

Video gamers (VGs) were defined as those who played video games, while non-video gamers (NVGs) were defined as those who put 0 hours into video gaming per week. Among VGs, a group was made of those who played games for 3 hours or more per week, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends older children only play video games for 1 to 2 hours a day.

Parents reported their child’s age and sex, and researchers measured the height and weight of children to calculate their body mass index. The Child Behavior Checklist was used to calculate mental health symptoms. Scores were compared for behavioral and psychiatric categories between VGs and NVGs.

There were 2217 children in the study. In a stop signal task (SST), 1128 were NVGs and 679 were VGs were played video games for 21 hours or more per week. VGs were more often male and had a lower parental income.

Video gaming led to improved performance in the SST, with brain activity in multiple regions of the brain increasing. These patterns were seen in male and female groups separately. The blood oxygen level–dependent signal was consistently greater in VGs compared to NVGs, showing a direct effect of video gaming on brain activity.

These results indicate that video games can provide cognitive training to children, potentially improving working memory, response inhibition, and other cognitive functions.

Reference

Chaarani B, Ortigara J, Yuan D, Loso H, Potter A, Garavan HP. Association of video gaming with cognitive performance among children. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(10):e2235721. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.35721