MAY 23, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Video games can help boost children's intelligence

Everyone loves and plays video games. Right from when we’re kids, we’re hooked on video games, and we play them well into adulthood. They’re a release from the dreariness of our everyday lives, an escape into an unknown world where we’re free from the real world for a short time. Unfortunately, we were all told as kids that video games are bad for us and can rot our brains. If we want to be smart, stay away from video games. However, one cool thing about being a scientist is you get to come up with ways to buck the trend. In this case, that trend is the negative connotation of video games.

A recent study published in Scientific Reports has demonstrated how the screen habits of US children correlates with how their cognitive abilities develop over time. They found that the children who spent an above-average time playing video games increased their intelligence more than the average, while watching TV or social media had neither a positive nor a negative effect. Yes, you read that correctly, video games might be good for you! The study was carried out by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden on how the screen habits of US children correlates with how their cognitive abilities develop over time.

Over 9,000 boys and girls in the USA participated in the study. At the age of nine or ten, the children performed a battery of psychological tests to gauge their general cognitive abilities (intelligence). The children and their parents were also asked about how much time the children spent watching TV and videos, playing video games and engaging with social media.

Just over 5,000 of the children were followed up after two years, at which point they were asked to repeat the psychological tests. This enabled the researchers to study how the children's performance on the tests varied from the one testing session to the other, and to control for individual differences in the first test. They also controlled for genetic differences that could affect intelligence and differences that could be related to the parents' educational background and income.

On average, the children spent 2.5 hours a day watching TV, half an hour on social media and 1 hour playing video games. The results showed that those who played more games than the average increased their intelligence between the two measurements by approximately 2.5 IQ points more than the average. No significant effect was observed, positive or negative, of TV-watching or social media.

"We didn't examine the effects of screen behaviour on physical activity, sleep, wellbeing or school performance, so we can't say anything about that," says Torkel Klingberg, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. "But our results support the claim that screen time generally doesn't impair children's cognitive abilities, and that playing video games can actually help boost intelligence. This is consistent with several experimental studies of video-game playing."

The results are also in line with recent research showing that intelligence is not a constant, but a quality that is influenced by environmental factors.

"We'll now be studying the effects of other environmental factors and how the cognitive effects relate to childhood brain development," says Torkel Klingberg.

You read that correctly, folks. Video games make children smarter! Teens are free to power up their gaming laptop, PlayStation, or Xbox and be prepared to get smarter from playing Call of Duty or Fortnite! However, it’s still important to maintain a balanced lifestyle and play video games in moderation like everything else.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Scientific Reports

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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