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Gaming linked to enhanced cognitive function in children




Children who played video games for three hours per day or more performed better on cognitive skills tests involving impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games.

The study of nearly 2,000 children is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Scientists at the University of Vermont, Burlington, analysed data obtained when children entered the ABCD Study at nine and 10 years old.

The researchers examined survey, cognitive and brain imaging data from nearly 2,000 participants from within the bigger study cohort.

The children were separated into two groups – those who reported playing no video games at all and those who reported playing video games for three hours per day or more.

The investigators then evaluated the children’s performance on two tasks that reflected their ability to control impulsive behaviour and to memorise information, as well as the children’s brain activity while performing the tasks.

The researchers discovered that the children who reported playing video games for three or more hours per day were faster and more accurate on both cognitive tasks than those who never played.

NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D, said:

“This study adds to our growing understanding of the associations between playing video games and brain development.”

“Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behaviour and mental health problems.

“This study suggests that there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime, which are worthy of further investigation.”

The difference in cognitive function observed between the two groups was also accompanied by differences in brain activity revealed during functional MRI brain imaging analyses.

The scans revealed that that children who played video games for three or more hours per day showed higher brain activity in aeas of the brain associated with attention and memory than did those who never played.

Meanwhile, those children who played at least three hours of videogames per day showed more brain activity in frontal brain regions that are associated with more cognitively demanding tasks and less brain activity in brain regions related to vision.

The researchers think these patterns may be due to the game players practicing tasks related to impulse control and memory while playing videogames, which can be cognitively demanding, and that these changes may lead to improved performance on related tasks.

Furthermore, the comparatively low activity in visual areas among children who reported playing video games suggests that this area of the brain may become more efficient at visual processing as a result of repeated practice through video games.

Bader Chaarani, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and the lead author on the study, said:

“While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neurocognitive performance, it is an encouraging finding, and one that we must continue to investigate in these children as they transition into adolescence and young adulthood.

“Many parents today are concerned about the effects of video games on their children’s health and development, and as these games continue to proliferate among young people, it is crucial that we better understand both the positive and negative impact that such games may have.”

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