A new study found that playing video games may have a positive impact on young children’s cognitive development. Researchers found a positive association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health as well as their cognitive and social aptitudes.
Video games have imposed themselves as a centerpiece of entertainment media — we’re willing to shell out a lot more for a good game than for a good movie. Millions of people worldwide enjoy them, from almost all age brackets. But the largest consumer of video games by percentage currently are young children.
Because children are still learning how to be, well, human beings, the way video games guide their development has always attracted lots of criticism. Their violent nature in particular has been drawing a lot of misguided flak over the past few years; but they’re also perceived as being socially-isolating (how many times has someone called you “nolifer” when you frag them in Counter Strike?) and as a waste of time better spent on studying. So I’d say it’s safe to assume that most parents consider them to have a negative influence over their children.
Not so fast, says science. A recent study from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Paris Descartes University assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills, and found that playing video games may have positive effects on young children.
The data was obtained from the School Children Mental Health Europe Project. Children’s mental health was assessed by their parents and teachers through a questionnaire and the children themselves responded to questions through an interactive application. Teachers also evaluated their academic success.
Boys tended to play more than girls, and both genders spent increasingly more time on gaming as they got older. Children of average-sized families tended to play more games, while kids from single-parent families or less educated ones play less.
After adjusting for subject’s age, gender and number of siblings, researchers found that children who engaged in heavy video game use had 75% more chance of showing a higher level of intellectual functioning than their counterparts. They also had 88% more chance of achieving a higher overall level of school performance. More time spent playing was also associated with less social problems with their peers.
“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children,” said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.
Furthermore, the team was unable to find any significant association between video game use and either parent, teacher or self-reported mental health problems. Previously, research showed there is no evidence that violent video games make children more aggressive. Any fits can be attributed to a sense of frustration, not the violence depicted in the video games.
“These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community,” Keyes added.
“We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success.”
The full paper was published online in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, and can be read here.