Many parents feel guilty when their children spend hours on end staring at screens – and some even worry it could make them less clever.
But a new study suggests that spending an above-average time playing video games can actually help boost children’s intelligence.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden carried out psychological tests on more than 5,000 children in the US aged between ten and 12, to gauge their general cognitive abilities.
The children and their parents were also asked about how much time the children spent watching TV and videos, playing video games and engaging with social media.
The researchers then followed up with the children two years later, at which point they were asked to repeat the psychological tests.
The results showed that those who played more games than the average increased their intelligence by approximately 2.5 IQ points more than the average between the two measurements.
No significant effect was observed, positive or negative, of TV-watching or social media.
Children who played more games than the average increased their intelligence by approximately 2.5 IQ points more than the average over two years
Violent video games do NOT make players more aggressive in real life
Shooter video games like Call of Duty are often citied as the motivation for real-life gun crimes.
But according to a recent study, there’s no evidence that these games cause violence in the real world.
The researchers looked at how adolescent boys’ violent behaviour is affected by the releases of new violent video games in the US.
They concluded that policies intended to place restrictions on video game sales to minors – as attempted by several US states – are unlikely to reduce violence.
‘While children who played more video games at ten years were on average no more intelligent than children who didn’t game, they showed the most gains in intelligence after two years,’ said Torkel Klingberg, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.
‘For example, a child who was in the top 17 per cent in terms of hours spent gaming increased their IQ about 2.5 points more than the average child over two years.
‘This is evidence of a beneficial, causal effect of video games on intelligence.’
For the study, the researchers created an intelligence index from five tasks: two on reading comprehension and vocabulary, one on attention and executive function , one assessing visual-spatial processing, and one on learning ability.
Repeating the psychological tests two years apart enabled the researchers to study how the children’s performance varied from one testing session to the other, and to control for individual differences in the first test.
They also controlled for genetic differences that could affect intelligence and differences that could be related to the parents’ educational background and income.
‘If unaccounted for, these factors could mask the true effect of screen time on children’s intelligence,’ the researchers said.
‘For example, children born with certain genes might be more prone to watch TV and, independently, have learning issues.’
On average, children spent two and a half hours a day watching online videos or TV programmes, half an hour socialising online, and one hour playing video games.
In total, that is four hours a day of screen time for the average child and six hours for the top 25 per cent – a large portion of a child’s free time.
On average, children spent two and a half hours a day watching online videos or TV programmes, half an hour socialising online, and one hour playing video games
The many hours of Instagramming and messaging did not boost children’s intelligence, but it was not detrimental either, according to the researchers.
Watching TV and online videos showed a positive effect in one of the analyses, but no effect when parental education was taken into account.
‘Our results should not be taken as a blanket recommendation for all parents to allow limitless gaming,’ the researchers said.
‘But for those parents bothered by their children playing video games, you can now feel better knowing that it’s probably making them a tad smarter.’
The results are in line with recent research showing that intelligence is not a constant, but a quality that is influenced by environmental factors.
However, the researchers note that their study did not differentiate between different types of video games, which makes the results difficult to transfer to children with other gaming habits.
They also didn’t look at, such as mental health, sleep quality and physical exercise.
‘We’ll now be studying the effects of other environmental factors and how the cognitive effects relate to childhood brain development,’ said Klingberg.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
CAN INTERNET GAMING BECOME A MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER?
The World Health Organisation has classified playing video games on the internet as an official mental health disorder.
‘Gaming disorder’ is defined as ‘a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.’
To be diagnosed with gaming disorder, the individual must:
(1) Experience significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning
(2) Have experienced this impairment for at least 12 months
WHO advises gamers to be mindful of how much time they spend playing, especially if it is to the exclusion of other daily activities.
They should also be alert to changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning which could be attributed to gaming.