Study Shows Video Games Can Offer Benefits to Kids’ Brains

According to a new study, kids who played at least three hours of video games per day performed better on cognitive tests.

Black boy excitedly playing video games.

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It turns out that playing video games could boost cognitive performance, according to a new study published on JAMA Network Open. Researchers found that children who played video games for three or more hours per day had higher scores on cognitive skills tests and more impulse control than those who do not game. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting video gaming to 1 to 2 hours per day for older children.

The study was based on data pulled from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, an ongoing, largest-of-its-kind research project on child development and brain health.

The ABCD study involves 12,000 children, but the University of Vermont, Burlington researchers narrowed the participant pool to more than 2,200 children ages 9 and 10. The authors divided the children into two groups: Those who self-reported playing video games for more than three hours daily and those who said they never gamed. The children took tests to measure impulse control and short-term memory and underwent brain imaging.

Researchers evaluated the tests and found that children who gamed for at least three hours per day completed cognitive tasks faster and more accurately than those who did not play. An MRI analysis showed that the kids playing video games had more brain activity in the regions linked to attention and memory. They also had less activity in brain regions related to vision.

Other, similarly-designed studies had smaller data sets of about 80, according to a press release.

So, does this mean video games make kids smarter?

Not so fast.

"While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neurocognitive performance, it is an encouraging finding, and one that we must continue to investigate in these children as they transition into adolescence and young adulthood," said Bader Chaarani, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and the lead author on the study, in the release.

What's more, it may provide some comfort to parents whose kids love gaming.

"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 crucial that we better understand both the positive and negative impact that such games may have."

The researchers did not specify the type of video games, though Chaarani says most participants played adventure games and not slower-paced puzzle ones.

Ultimately, a family's approach to screen time is individual and can be catered to the child. Just like Cocomelon may be too stimulating for some kids and fine for others, video gaming will likely affect older kids differently. Monitor your child's behavior, mood, and academic performance, and work with them to set any necessary limits.

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