Monday, March 8, 2010

Video Games and Learning

Parents who have been concerned about the impact of video gaming on their children  have new scientific evidence to support what many of them have noted from their own observations: children who own and use video game systems perform more poorly in certain school tasks than those who do not own such systems.

A new study, done as a randomized trial, the "gold standard" in research, appears in the journal Psychological Science (not available for free online) and summarized in an article by Ed Yong, which appears in a newsblast from the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society. The researchers, Robert Weis and colleagues from Denison University, recruited 64 boys, ages 6-9, who did not already own a video game system. They gave half the boys a Playstation 2 and three "all ages" games. The other boys did not get a game system. Parents were told the game systems were an incentive for participating in a study of development, not that it was gaming itself that was being studied.

After four months there were significant differences in reading, writing and spelling skills between the two groups of boys, differences which were also noted by their teachers. Interestingly, the differences did not show up in math. After looking more closely, the researchers determined that it was not gameplaying itself that diminished academic skills, but rather the fact that the students with their own game systems spent significantly more time playing than children who did not have their own systems and only played occasionally at the home of a friend. It was the time the students did not spend on outside academic tasks, like reading, that seemed to be the reason for the difference between the two groups.

Clearly, there are more questions to be answered. But by moving beyond earlier studies which looked only at the correlation between academics and gaming, and using the more rigorous format of a randomized trial, this new research can help parents make better informed decisions about whether and how to allow their children access to video games.

Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr

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