Can Video Games Boost a Child’s Cognitive Capabilities

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The gaming industry is rapidly advancing. It’s baking this enormous cake made of sweetness and content derived from making our lives more interesting. Is the piece the children are devouring bringing them more good than is believed?

Parental worries have significantly changed over the last few decades. Instead of problems such as missing a curfew, nowadays parents are mostly concerned about their kids being exposed to violence, gaining weight, and being socially detached. The villain of this story is most certainly – video games.

Since the time Pacman was a novelty, many psychologists have been wondering:

“Are we doing a big injustice to video gaming?  What if it’s actually an enrichment in the cognitive development of a child?”

The answer gets bulkier by the day. A growing body of research has revealed the secret of video games’ impact on the human brain, and therefore a child’s development – here’s a preview!

Are All Kinds of Video Games Beneficial?

image2 4Not all types of games are equally beneficial for children. The ones that were researched the most come from the action genre. They are certainly the kids’ favorite, however, they ’re also the most notorious for being mind-numbing.

What makes them the focus of many studies conducted over the years is their specific characteristics (e.g. dynamic environment shifting) that demand of the player to :

  • move quickly
  • focus on many things at once
  • make instant decisions
  • operate with a great quantity of information (working memory).

Interestingly enough, these are some of the abilities psychologists consider being elementary units of intelligence.

To show the difference in the influence of various types of video games, intervention studies start by forming two groups, where one is required to play an action game and the other a video control game (their operational method is quite different).

They asked both groups to play the non-action game for a certain period of time, and then they changed one group’s game from non-action to action.

The pre-change and post-change results were compared and showed there is a casualty of the relationship between action gaming and the superior performance witnessed in these tests.

It was also a necessity to prove that it’s not a question of action games attracting a specific profile of gamers (with superior cognitive skills), as much as the game itself is influencing the players of the same caliber.

Age is also a very important factor in this analysis. Although children’s brains are highly adaptable (thanks to their neuroplasticity) and could experience improvement from all types of games, the action ones are more serviceable to young adults, for whom they were designed in the first place (according to their level of mental growth).

For this reason, the effect of regular action gaming on older adults is disputable.

Which Parts of a Child’s Cognition Are Affected?

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  • Perception and focused attention (acknowledging and processing information)

In the field of vision, this basically means players can more easily distinguish shades of gray (visual contrast sensitivity) and focus on visual details.

This entails one’s capability to be quick and accurate in decision-making, according to the ways in which the environment changes. The response latency of AVGs (action video gamers) is better than NAGs (non-action gamers) by about 10 percent and the numbers rise along with regular playing.

An example of this would be having to hit the gas pedal as soon as the green light appears. How do speed and accuracy work together? Do gamers compromise accuracy when doing a task faster?

The results revealed an unaffected accuracy, and approximately 12% faster AVGs compared to NAGs with the same number of mistakes.

  • Spatial and verbal cognition

Playing video games seems to boost abilities such as locating and following objects in space, choosing a line of thoughts and actions that lead to the wanted goal – them being very important in the real-life navigation of any kind: going to work, driving in traffic, etc.

On top of that, they immensely contribute to effective problem-solving and critical thinking.

  • Multitasking and memory

Chiappe and colleagues (2013) found that investing  50 hours in playing a video game leads to significantly better results on the Multi-Attribute Task Battery test (MATB), which examines the skills required in aviation.

It consists of keeping a target centered on a screen using a joystick while monitoring remaining fuel, responding to light signals on an instrument panel, and simultaneously listening and responding to radio communication.

The ones who scored highly on this test would have greater success in real-world piloting.

Video Gaming Directs Children Towards Their Future Jobs

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Recent correlational studies show how useful video games are to job performances, especially those that involve eye-hand coordination, great working memory, and quick decision-making.

  1. Aviation – it was demonstrated that video gamers were basically as good as trained pilots in their ability to fly and land flying drones.
  2. Surgery (laparoscopy) – inexperienced surgeons who were passionate video gamers have outperformed more experienced surgeons in their field, according to Rosser’s study. They also performed surgeries faster, with the same level of precision ;  making them more efficient.

Video games of today are much more than entertainment. It’s safe to say that they’ve risen to be quite effective learning tools, they enhance job-related skills and improve many cognitive mechanisms.

We shouldn’t close our eyes to their negative side, but if parents guide their children on the path of making the best of gaming, we will continue to discover improvements in both ways.

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