Video games: Our study suggests that they increase children’s intelligence

Many parents feel guilty when their children spend hours playing video games. Some even worry that it could make their children less smart. And indeed, this is an issue that scientists have been arguing about for years.

In our new study, we examined how video games affect children’s psyches by interviewing and testing more than 5,000 children aged 10 to 12. The results, published in Scientific Reports, may surprise some.

The children were asked how many hours a day they spend on social media, watching videos or television, and playing video games. The answer was: many hours. On average, children spent two and a half hours a day watching online videos or TV shows, half an hour socializing online, and an hour playing video games.

Altogether, that’s four hours a day for the average child and six hours for the top 25 percent — a big chunk of a child’s free time. And other reports noted that this has increased dramatically over the decades. Screens have existed for generations past, but now they really define childhood.

Is that something bad? Well, it’s complicated. There could be both pros and cons to children’s developing minds. And these may depend on the result you are looking at. For our study, we were specifically interested in the effect of screen time on intelligence – the ability to learn effectively, think rationally, understand complex ideas, and adapt to new situations.

Intelligence is an important trait in our lives and is very predictive of a child’s future income, happiness and longevity. In research, it is often measured as performance on a variety of cognitive tests. For our study, we created an intelligence index from five items: two on reading comprehension and vocabulary, one on attention and executive functions (which include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control), one assessing visuo-spatial processing (e.g. objects in your head) and one on learning ability across trials.

This isn’t the first time someone has studied the effect of screens on intelligence, but the research so far has yielded mixed results. So what’s special this time? What is new about our study is that we took genes and socioeconomic backgrounds into account. To date, few studies have considered socioeconomic status (household income, parental education, and neighborhood quality), and no study had considered genetic effects.

Genes are important because intelligence is highly heritable. If left unaddressed, these factors could obscure the true effect of screen time on children’s intelligence. For example, children born with certain genes might be more likely to watch TV and have independent learning problems. The lottery of genetics is a major confounder in any psychological process, but until recently this has been difficult to account for in scientific studies due to the high cost of genome analysis and the limitations of technology.

The data we used for our study are part of a massive data collection in the US to better understand childhood development: the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Project. Our sample was representative of the United States in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

When we first asked the child at age 10 how much they play, we found that both watching videos and socializing online were associated with below-average intelligence. Meanwhile, gaming wasn’t associated with intelligence at all. These screen time results are mostly consistent with previous research. But when we followed up later, we found that gaming had a positive and meaningful effect on intelligence.

While children who played more video games by age 10 were, on average, no smarter than children who didn’t play games, they showed the greatest gains in intelligence at age 2 for both boys and girls. For example, a child who was in the top 17 percent for hours spent playing increased their IQ by about 2.5 points more than the average child over two years.

This is evidence for a positive, causal effect of video games on intelligence. This finding is consistent with previous, smaller studies in which participants were randomly assigned to play video games or to a control group. Our result is also consistent with parallel lines of study suggesting that cognitive skills are not fixed but can be trained—including studies of cognitive training intervention apps.

What about the other two types of screen activity? Social media did not produce the change in intelligence after two years. The long hours of Instagramming and messaging didn’t help the children’s intelligence, but it didn’t harm them either. Finally, watching TV and online videos showed a positive effect in one of the analyzes but no effect when parental education was accounted for (as opposed to the broader factor ‘socioeconomic status’).

This finding should therefore be treated with caution. There is some empirical evidence that high-quality TV/video content, such as Sesame Street, has a positive impact on children’s academic performance and cognitive abilities. But these results are rare.

When considering the implications of these results, it is important to remember that there are many other psychological aspects that we have not considered, such as: B. mental health, sleep quality and physical activity. Our results should not be taken as a blanket recommendation for all parents to allow limitless play. But for those parents who are upset about their kids playing video games, you can feel better now knowing that it probably makes them a little smarter. Video games: Our study suggests that they increase children’s intelligence

Ryan Sederquist

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