Video Games Might Actually Be Better for Kids Brains Than We Thought

It turns out playing video games might not be as harmful to children’s brains as we thought.

A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics is shedding light on how video gaming impacts the cognitive abilities of elementary school-aged children. More than 2,200 kids across the United States were recruited in public, private, and charter schools for the research, with the average participant being about 10 years old. A slight majority (63 percent) were girls.

To gather data, the research team separated respondents into two groups: video gamers and non-video gamers. Children in the first group said they gamed for “21 hours per week or more,” while the latter never played video games. Researchers compared both groups’ response inhibition and working memory using task-based functional MRI scans and blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) signals.

Their findings were insightful: On average, video gamers demonstrated “better cognitive performance” and stronger signals from areas of the brain associated with visual, attention, and memory processing than non-video gamers. These variations appeared to be linked to actively participating in a game, not just watching videos on the screen.

“Children must actively engage with a video’s content, as opposed to passively watching a video, to exhibit altered brain activation in key areas of the brain involved in cognition,” researchers explained.

The team also noted that most studies regarding video games and youth have linked gaming to “subsequent increases in aggressive behavior in children after accounting for prior aggression.” It makes total sense, too. There are a lot of violent video games out there, and immersing oneself in this content for hours on end is bound to have consequences. (It’s worth noting that researchers didn’t include the genre of video games each participant played in their analysis. That’s definitely an area for further study, especially with more and more non-violent video game options popping up.)

However, there isn’t a whole lot of data out there about how video games can impact children’s cognitive abilities, researchers added — and the studies that have been conducted in this space have resulted in “divided” findings.

“These findings suggest that video gaming may be associated with improved cognitive abilities involving response inhibition and working memory and with alterations in underlying cortical pathways,” the team concluded. It’s certainly good news for parents whose kids love video games.

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