Many parents view high-paced action video games as a pernicious pastime for their children. Playing Call of Duty or Counter Strike for many hours each day can negatively impact academic performance, but that’s likely because the kids decide to do something else with their time in the first place, and not because the video games themselves “melt their brains”, so to speak. In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 20 relevant studies found quite the opposite.
The researchers found action games actually boost some cognitive functions, albeit moderately.
The authors, most of whom are affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reviewed video game training studies published between January 1986 and July 2015. These studies involved 313 participants included in the training group and 323 participants in the control group.
The video game sessions varied in duration, from weeks to months. As for the games, participants had to play games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Unreal Tournament, but also classics like Mario Kart DS, Pacman and Donkey Kong Professor — all for science, of course.
By pooling the results, the authors found “healthy adults achieve moderate benefit from action video game training in overall cognitive ability and moderate to small benefit in their abilities in specific cognitive domains”. Young adults, whose brain neural networks are far more plastic, gained more cognitive benefits than the older adults.
The beneficial cognitive effects of playing the action games include improved processing speed, attention, executive function and memory, as reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Action video game training is associated with broad enhancements in cognitive function due to its requirements of rapid and accurate reaction, switches between high concentrate attention and divided attention and other characteristics.
In the media, however, video games sort of have a bad rep as a lazy pastime. Science seems to say otherwise about a hobby shared by over 150 million Americans. Even violent video games have been found to be benign, despite more or less well-founded concerns.