Throughout the ’90s, concerned parents’ rallying cry was, “turn off that TV; those video games will rot your brain.”
It turns out ma and pa may not have known what they were talking about (which should surprise no one who survived the ’90’s tech revolution as a teenager).
A surprising new study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the University of Vermont at Burlington found that kids who play video games for three hours or more a day perform better on cognitive tests that involve memory and impulse control. The study used brain imaging from about 2,000 kids ages 9 and 10. They separated the kids into two groups (those who reported playing no video games at all and those who said playing video games for three hours per day or more – which is “excessive,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics).
For each group, investigators evaluated the children’s performance on two tasks reflecting their ability to control impulsive behavior and to memorize information. In addition, they monitored the children’s brain activity while they performed the tasks. The researchers found that children who reported playing video games “excessively” were faster and more accurate on both cognitive tests than those who never played.
MRI brain imaging also found that children who played “excessively” showed higher brain activity in regions of the brain associated with attention and memory. Gamers in the study had more brain activity in frontal brain regions associated with more cognitively demanding tasks and less brain activity in the areas related to vision.
Nora Volkow of the NIDA said, “This study adds to our growing understanding of the associations between playing video games and brain development. Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior and mental health problems. This study suggests that cognitive benefits may also be associated with this popular pastime, which is worthy of further investigation.”
While the results of this study work in favor of video games, other studies have linked excessive gaming to behavioral and mental health problems. And it may not be as cut and dry as it appears. For instance, do kids who have better impulse control and perform higher on cognitive tests gravitate towards gaming excessively?
The study isn’t a carte blanche for kids to play around the clock, but it may show a way to harness gaming to help children (and perhaps adults) with cognitive improvements, and it may ease the worry of some parents that their child’s brain is rotting after hour 3 of Minecraft.