Do video games really make kids smarter?

A team of researchers from reputable institutions has produced a large-scale study of the link between video games and children’s intelligence. The results may surprise some, although we must be careful in the interpretation.

Although it has clearly declined with the development of this medium, there is still a prejudice today that video games are mind-numbing, especially for young children. Today, researchers are still not unanimous on this issue. Some of them believe that playing video games can make children smarter.

This is the case of a large-scale study of more than 5,000 children by researchers from the Freie University in Amsterdam, the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany and the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, an institution that is part of the world’s top medical universities.

They began by asking the children how much time they spent in front of social networks, television, or video games each day. The first note without appeal. As you might expect, today’s kids consume Lots of digital content!

On average, these 5,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 12 spent an average of four hours per day on these activities, two of which were video games. Duration, which is a significant part of the free time of a child of this age, and which continues to increase visually. Opportunity to validate the first observation: “Today, screens really define childhood‘, say the researchers.

It remains to be seen the cognitive impact of all that time spent in front of screens. And this is where everything gets complicated. The majority of more serious studies already indicate that it leads to a mix of possible positive and negative effects. Therefore it is necessary to define standards; In this study, researchers specifically targeted the effects on intelligence.

Rarely is definitive research

A term that clearly has a lot of distinct definitions that depend a lot on context. Harvard researchers estimate that there are 8; This other paper considers that there are more than 70. In the context of this study on video games, researchers defined it as “Ability to learn effectively, think rationally, understand complex ideas and adapt to new situations“.

To compare the results of young guinea pigs, it was also necessary to find one. To do this, they measured their performance on five cognitive tasks that they believed represented intelligence most directly.

Two of these tasks were based on reading comprehension and vocabulary. One focused on attention and “executive functions,” which include short-term memory or self-control. The latter two tested their ability to locate themselves in space and learned a task during experiments.

Note that the researchers are not the first to create a protocol of this kind. Unfortunately, the results are often very inconclusive. On the other hand, they are the first to incorporate genetic, social and economic factors on a large scale into a study of this kind; An approach that appears more appropriate and therefore promising.

However, these are very important elements, as they can introduce enormous logical biases if they are ignored. “For example, a child born with certain genes may be more likely to watch television, yet have completely independent learning difficulties.‘,” the researchers explained in their press release.

The genetic lottery is a major player in any psychological process“, they insist.”So far, it has been difficult to incorporate into studies due to the high price of genomic analysis.However, this limitation has been greatly reduced in recent years. The improvement of these techniques thus opened the door to this more advanced work. They were thus able to adjust their sample to be representative of the American population in terms of gender, race, and socioeconomic status.

This work demonstrates that there is a statistical link between video games and cognitive development. © Ben White – Unsplash

True statistical correlation…

The results may surprise some. First, they determined that the children who spent the most time in front of television and social networks had a generally lower than average IQ score. On the other hand, they did not find a significant difference between 10-year-olds who regularly play video games and those who do not.

And the picture is still dramatically different after two years of follow-up. First, the researchers found that the aforementioned TV and social media followers were no less intelligent than the others after this period. This suggests that while the hours they spend in front of Instagram and the like didn’t make them smarter, it didn’t make them statistically dumber either.

They also spotted a noticeable difference on the side of the big players. Statistically, children who have passedMore time in front of video games They are also the ones who gave Greatest advance in knowledge at the end of this period. For researchers, there appears to be A causal relationship that can be demonstrated mathematically Between playing video games and developing intelligence.

© Emily Wade – Unsplash

…but also undeniable limits

Can we then definitively conclude that video games are the preferred method of training young future geniuses? Well she is Much more complicated than that. On the other hand, it is indeed a robust study conducted on a large sample by researchers from recognized institutions specialized in these matters.

But on the other hand, although researchers have made Major systematic effort to remove a whole host of biases Genetic, social and economic, however study includes big limits. For example, researchers place great emphasis on the fact that their study cannot take into account other potentially important psychological parameters. They mention in particular Sleep quality, mental health or physical exerciseThere are many factors that can affect the final result.

Another very important limitation of the study is that the researchers did not have the data needed to make the work Distinguish between different programs, different social platforms, or different types of video games. So this work does not explain how playing a game like Fortnite affects cognitive development compared to playing a racing or logic game, for example. It’s a shame, because other work (see here or here) strongly suggests that the effects on cognition depend directly on the type and complexity of the game.

It is clear that video games cannot replace physical activity, replace good sleep or reduce the impact of poor diet. © Chris Benson – Unsplash

Strong conclusions but beware of interpretation

So in the end, do video games make kids smarter? Based on this data, the answer is virtually yes. The researchers were able to statistically confirm that their practices appear to have a cognitive effect that is at worst neutral, and at best positive. Don’t worry, your child won’t get terribly stupid because of video games… it may even help strengthen his brain.

But we must also remain aware of the nuances of this study. Letting a child play for hours is absolutely no guarantee that they will become very smart, far from it! If the rest of the lifestyle is poor, particularly in the case of addiction, the positive effect that the researchers have documented may fall out entirely. It may even give way to a plethora of extremely harmful effects.

While waiting for new studies of this kind to complete these already interesting results, the conclusion is as follows: it is all a matter of approach and dose, then. With good relations!

The study text is available here.

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