All that time your kid spends playing Minecraft could actually be making him smarter.

All that time your kid spends playing Minecraft could actually be making him smarter.

Many parents feel guilty when their children play video games for hours on end. Some even worry that it might make their children less intelligent. And, in fact, that is an issue that scientists have clashed over for years.

In our new study, we investigate how video games affect children’s minds, interviewing and evaluating more than 5,000 children ages ten to 12. And the results, published in scientific reportsIt will be surprising to some.

The children were asked how many hours a day they spent on social media, watching videos or television, and playing video games. The answer was: many hours. On average, children spent two and a half hours a day watching videos or TV shows online, half an hour socializing online, and an 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 part of a child’s free time. And other reports found that this has increased dramatically over the decades. Screens existed in previous generations, but now they truly define childhood.

Is that a bad thing? Well, it’s complicated. could have both benefits and drawbacks for the development of children’s mind. And these may depend on the result you are seeing. 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 is often measured as performance on a wide range of cognitive tests. For our study, we created an IQ from five tasks: two on reading comprehension and vocabulary, one on attention and executive function (including working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control), one assessing visuospatial processing (such as rotate objects in your mind), and one on the ability to learn in multiple attempts.

This isn’t the first time someone has studied the effect of screens on intelligence, but the research so far has produced mixed results. So what’s so special about this time? The novelty of our study is that we take into account genes and socioeconomic background. Only a few studies so far have considered socioeconomic status (household income, parental education, and neighborhood quality), and no studies have taken genetic effects into account.

Genes matter because intelligence it is highly heritable. If not taken into account, these factors could mask the true effect of screen time on children’s intelligence. For example, children born with certain genes may be more likely to watch television and independently have learning disabilities. The lottery of genetics is a main confounding factor in any psychological process, but until recently this has been difficult to explain in scientific studies due to the high costs of genome analysis and technological limitations.

The data we used for our study is part of a massive data collection effort in the US to better understand child development: the Adolescent brain and cognitive development draft. Our sample was representative of the US in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

video games kids
Games definitely won’t make your child less smart. Image: Monkey Business/Getty Images

The results

We found that when we first asked the child at the age of ten how much he played, both watching videos and socializing online were related to below-average intelligence. Meanwhile, the games were not related to intelligence at all. These screen time results are mostly in line with previous research. But when we followed up at a later date, we found that gaming had a positive and significant effect on intelligence.

While kids who played the most video games at age 10 weren’t, on average, smarter than kids who didn’t play games, they showed the greatest gains in intelligence after two years for both boys and girls. For example, a boy who was in the top 17% in terms of hours spent playing increased her IQ about 2.5 points more than the average boy over two years.

This is evidence for a causal and beneficial effect of video games on intelligence. This result fits with smaller previous studies, where participants are randomly assigned to play video games or to a control group. Our finding is also in line with parallel lines of studies suggesting that cognitive abilities are not fixedbut you can train, including studies with cognitive training intervention applications.

What about the other two types of screen activities? Social networks did not affect the change in intelligence after two years. The many hours of Instagram and messages did not increase the intelligence of the children, but they were not harmful either. Finally, watching television and online videos showed a positive effect in one of the analyses, but no effect when parental education was taken into account (as opposed to the broader factor of “socioeconomic status”). So this finding should be taken with a grain of salt. There is some empirical support that high-quality TV/video content, such as Sesame Street, has a positive effect on children’s school performance and cognitive abilities. But those results are rare.

In thinking about the implications of these findings, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many other psychological aspects that we don’t look at, such as mental health, sleep quality, and physical exercise. Our results should not be taken as a blanket recommendation for all parents to allow unlimited play. But for those parents who are annoyed by their kids playing video games, you can now feel better knowing that you’re probably making them a little smarter.The conversationTorkel KlingbergProfessor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute Y bruno sauceAssistant Professor of Biological Psychology, Vrije University of Amsterdam

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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