Video games could improve children’s cognitive performance, according to a new study

Video games could improve children’s cognitive performance, according to a new study

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The influence of video games on the brains of children and adolescents has been debated for several years. Numerous studies have linked video games to behavioral disorders and other mental health problems. A new US study involving more than 2,200 children suggests that persistent video game playing is associated with better cognitive performance.

A major US survey conducted this year revealed that 71% of children aged 2-17 play video games. This is why researchers have been working for several years to investigate the links between video games, cognition and mental health. Most studies indicate negative effects, linking video games to certain behavioral disorders, which are mainly manifested by increased aggression and/or depression. But the research also highlighted some positive aspects of this hobby. For example, video games are used in a therapeutic context to treat certain behavioral problems (such as ADHD) or certain traumas.

Several studies have also investigated the relationship between video games and cognitive behavior, but the neurobiological mechanisms underlying these associations are not well understood. Only a few neuroimaging studies have addressed this topic, but they were based on relatively small samples (including fewer than 80 participants). Researchers at the University of Vermont in Burlington undertook to re-examine the question using data from ABCD survey (Cognitive development of the teenage brain) — the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

Increased speed and accuracy

The ABCD study is currently following nearly 12,000 young people into adulthood. Project scientists routinely measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and collect psychological, environmental and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. The aim of this large-scale study is to understand the factors that influence brain, cognitive and social-emotional development and to inform the development of interventions to improve these aspects.

In this new study to examine the effects of video games, researchers looked at data from 2,217 children (including 63% girls) aged 9 and 10. These were divided into two groups: some never play video games, while others play three hours or more a day. ” This threshold was chosen because it exceeds the screen time guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends limiting time spent playing video games to one to two hours per day for older children. », clarifies the press release accompanying studies.

Differences in performance on behavioral tasks and in Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores between gamers and nongamers. RT = reaction time, SSRT = stop signal reaction time, ADHD = ADHD, OCD = OCD. © B. Chaarani et al.

Children in each group were given two tasks (stop signal taskor SST, and task n-back) to assess their ability to control impulsive behavior and remember information. The researchers examined the children’s brain activity using functional MRI as they performed these tasks. They found that gamers were faster and more accurate than non-gamers in both tasks. ” This study suggests that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime that merit further investigation. said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This difference in task performance was also highlighted by brain imaging: child gamers had higher brain activity in areas of the brain associated with attention and memory than non-gamers. According to the team, these results may come from the impulse control and memory tasks performed while playing video games—some of which can be very cognitively demanding; this could lead to improved performance on related tasks.

Effects that may vary depending on the type of game

At the same time, gamers showed increased activity in frontal brain areas associated with more cognitively demanding tasks and less activity in brain areas related to vision. ” These results suggest a reduction in visuomotor cognitive costs due to playing video games. ”, the researchers note.

Contrary to psychological and behavioral studies that suggest harmful links between video games and children’s mental health (increased depression, violence and aggressive behavior), the team emphasizes that they did not observe any significant differences between players and non-players. However, the raw scores for the behavioral and psychiatric categories, as assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist, were consistently higher in gamers than in non-gamers. Therefore, the researchers do not rule out the fact that this trend could increase with time and greater exposure to video games. Therefore, long-term follow-up is necessary to verify this point.

It should be noted that this study did not make it possible to establish a causal relationship: it is possible that playing video games improves cognitive performance, just as it is possible that children who are gifted at tasks requiring attention and memory choose to play video games. The study authors also point out that the results likely depend heavily on the types of video games — and that level of specificity was not accounted for in this study. Action/adventure games, puzzle games, sports or shooter/fighting games can have different effects on neurocognitive development; Single and multiplayer games may also have different effects on the brain and cognition.

The future release of data from the ABCD survey will allow researchers to further examine the long-term effects of video games on cognition. ” Many parents today are concerned about the effects of video games on their children’s health and development, and as these games continue to proliferate among young people, it is critical that we better understand the positive and negative impact these games can have. concludes Bader Chaarani, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and first author of the study.

source: B. Chaarani et al., JAMA Network Open

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