Researchers have linked playing video games to increased intelligence in children.
Video games and cognitive abilities
Children are spending more and more time in front of screens, and the impact of these practices is still hotly debated in the scientific sphere. That’s why researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden studied the correlation between American children’s screen habits and how their cognitive abilities develop over time. They found that children who spent above-average time playing video games increased their intelligence. The results of the research were published in the journal Scientific Reports .
2.5 IQ points higher than average
More than 9,000 boys and girls in the United States participated in the experiment. At about the age of nine or ten, subjects completed a battery of psychological tests to assess their intellect. The children and their parents were also asked about the amount of time the children spent watching television and videos, playing video games, and interacting with social networks.
Just over 5,000 children were followed up after two years. Afterwards, they were asked to repeat the psychological tests. This allowed researchers to study how children’s performance on tests varied from one testing session to the next. They also controlled for genetic differences that might affect intelligence, and differences that might be related to parental education and income. On average, children spend 2.5 hours a day watching TV, half an hour on social media and 1 hour playing video games, and surprise: the results showed that those who played more games than average increased their intelligence between the two measures by about 2.5 IQ points higher than average. No significant effects were observed, positive or negative, of television viewing or social networking.
“We didn’t look at the effects of screen behavior on physical activity, sleep, well-being or academic performance, so we can’t say anything about that,” said Torkel Klingberg, professor of cognitive neuroscience in the institute’s Department of Neuroscience. “But our results support the claim that screen time does not generally impair children’s cognitive abilities and that playing video games can actually help boost intelligence. This is consistent with several experimental studies on video games“he continued.
Intelligence is not constant
The results are also consistent with recent research showing that intelligence is not a constant, but a quality that is influenced by environmental factors.
“We will now look at the effects of other environmental factors and how cognitive effects are related to the child’s brain development,” Torkel Klingberg explained.
One limitation of the study is that it covers only U.S. children, and did not distinguish between different types of video games, making the results difficult to apply to children in other countries with different gaming habits. There was also a risk of error in subject reporting, since screen time and habits were self-reported.
Although the difference in cognitive ability is small and not enough to show a causal relationship, it is enough to be notable-and the study was careful to control for variables such as genetic differences and the child’s socioeconomic background.
Meanwhile, watching television and using social media did not seem to have a positive or negative effect on intelligence. The study should therefore prove useful in the debate about appropriate screen time for young minds.
“Digital media defines modern childhood, but its cognitive effects are unclear and hotly debated,” the researchers explained in their paper.