Gaming Children who play more video games show greater gains in intelligence over time, study finds

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Many parents feel guilty when their children play video games for hours on end. Some even worry it could make their children less clever. And, indeed, that’s a topic scientists have clashed over for years.

In our new study, we investigated how video games affect the minds of children, interviewing and testing more than 5,000 children aged ten to 12. And the results, published in Scientific Reports, will be surprising to some.

Children were asked how many hours a day they spent on social media, watching videos or TV, and playing video games. The answer was: a lot of hours. On average, children spent two and a half hours a day watching online videos or TV programmes, half an hour socialising online, and one hour playing video games.

In total, that’s four hours a day for the average child and six hours for the top 25% – a large portion of a child’s free time. And other reports found that this has increased dramatically over the decades. Screens were around in previous generations, but now they truly define childhood.

Is that a bad thing? Well, it’s complicated. There could be both benefits and drawbacks for the developing minds of children. And these might depend on the outcome you are looking at. For our study, we were specifically interested in the effect of screen time on intelligence – the ability to learn effectively, think rationally, understand complex ideas, and adapt to new situations.

Intelligence is an important trait in our lives and highly predictive of a child’s future income, happiness and longevity. In research, it’s often measured as performance on a wide range of cognitive tests. For our study, we created an intelligence index from five tasks: two on reading comprehension and vocabulary, one on attention and executive function (which includes working memory, flexible thinking and self-control), one assessing visual-spatial processing (such as rotating objects in your mind), and one on learning ability over multiple trials.

 
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