Playing video games every day may boost brain development, behavior in children

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Playing video games may actually boost a child’s brainpower, according to new research. Researchers in Vermont say gaming leads to better impulse control and working memory, improving behavior and academic performance.

Lead author Dr. Bader Chaarani, a psychiatrist at the University of Vermont, describes the findings as “encouraging.”

“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,” Chaarani says in a media release.

The team analyzed survey, cognitive, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scan data from nearly 2,000 children between nine and 10 years-old. Those who reported playing video games for three or more hours per day were faster and more accurate in memorizing information and controlling impulses.

They also showed higher activity in regions of grey matter associated with attention and memory than peers who never played. The participants also had more activity in frontal areas linked to cognitively demanding tasks and less in those related to vision. The patterns may stem from practicing tasks related to impulse control and memory while playing video games.

Twice as much gaming may improve brain development

The changes may lead to improved performance on related challenges, the researchers explain. Comparatively, lower activity in visual areas could reflect efficiency from looking at screens.

“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,” says Dr. Chaarani.

This threshold was selected as it exceeds American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines which recommend one to two hours per day for older children.

“This study adds to our growing understanding of the associations between playing video games and brain development,” adds NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D. “Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior 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.”

Although a number of studies have investigated relationships between video gaming and cognitive behavior, the neurobiological mechanisms are not well understood. Only a handful have addressed the topic and sample sizes have been small, with fewer than 80 participants.

The latest results are based on the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study which is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The findings are published by JAMA Network Open.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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