The largest scientific study into the effects video games have on children, suggests they’re actually a benefit.
However, a new study, carried out by the University of Vermont, was the largest of its kind in the US and involved 1,957 nine and 10-year-olds, of which 679 spent at least three hours a day playing video games (UK and US government agencies both advise a maximum of two hours a day for children).
In controlled tests, it was found that those that did play video games performed significantly better in terms of memory skills, as well as tests design to measure visual attention spans and reaction times.
MRI scans also showed that the frontal areas of the brain, associated with complex cognitive tasks and absorbing new information, were more active in children who played games, compared to those who didn’t.
The study suggests that this is due to practicing tasks related to impulse control and working memory, which has benefits in ordinary daily life.
No major signs of problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression or increased aggression were found in those that played games.
The study points out that there is not yet any proof of cause and effect, and that it may simply be that children with strong cognitive abilities are attracted to video games – so it’s not necessarily the games causing beneficial effects but proving attractive to those that already excel at puzzle-solving activities.
The University of Vermont and lead author on the study Bader Chaarani assistant professor of psychiatry said that while the study could not 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."