Playing lots of video games may benefit kids’ brains: study

Illustration: Aida Amer/Axios

A new scientific study suggests that children who frequently play video games out-performed non-gamers at tasks involving impulse control and memory.

Why it matters: It turns out playing video games might be good for the brain.

Details: The study of more than 2,000 children, ages 9 and 10, was conducted by researchers at the University of Vermont’s department of psychiatry. It tested children who game at least 21 hours a week and those who didn’t play at all.

  • The gamers did better than non-gamers in tests where they had to control impulsive behavior or memorize information, according to the National Institute of Health, which promoted the research.
  • During those tests, researchers observed that the gamers’ brains showed more activity in regions associated with attention and memory.

The study’s authors isolated game-playing as the differentiating factor, ruling out gender, parental income and even video viewing, among other variables.

  • They intentionally chose an extreme amount of gaming, exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children play no more than an hour or two of games a day.

Yes but, the scientists could not establish cause and effect.

  • The study is inconclusive over whether games deliver cognitive benefits or if those with cognitive benefits sought out games.
  • “While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neurocognitive performance, it is an encouraging finding,” the study’s lead author, Bader Chaarani, said in an NIH report of the findings.
  • The researchers also didn’t test whether the type of game kids played made an impact and encouraged further investigation to see if, say, action games yield the same results as puzzle games.

The big picture: The report adds to a body of research suggesting that playing video games, a pastime often dismissed as frivolous, unhealthy or even dangerous, may impart health benefits and that some games can even be used as medicine.

  • That view is fueling gaming start-up DeepWell, which is attempting to develop and label games based on specific therapeutic effects.
  • The research is also being cheered by Akili Interactive, makers of an FDA-approved prescription video game that was designed to treat children with ADHD and is in trials as a treatment for long COVID brain fog.
  • “It is motivating to see organizations like the National Institutes of Health continually supporting the study of how screens and brains interact,” Akili CEO Eddie Martucci tells Axios. “This type of new research is critical to advance our collective understanding, and when we’re lucky can have the potential to power the next generation of software treatments.”

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