A new study finds that playing video games boosted children’s intelligence by 2.5 IQ points
In today’s world, video games are only becoming more popular. As of 2020, more than 200 million Americans play video games in the United States alone. That means that approximately 65 percent of American adults play video games.
Since the 1970s, video games have sparked debate. Concerns have been raised by parents and children’s advocates that violent video games can influence young players to commit violent acts in real life.
However, video games are also thought to be beneficial to both the mind and the body. Action video game players had higher hand-eye coordination and visuomotor abilities than nonplayers. According to a recent study, playing video games might even boost your intelligence.
Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet examined how children’s screen habits link with how their cognitive abilities grow over time. They discovered that youngsters who spent more time than average playing video games increased their IQ more than the average, however TV watching or social media had no effect. The results have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of devices. It is fiercely discussed how this impacts their health and if it has a positive or detrimental influence on their cognitive abilities. Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam investigated the relationship between screen usage and intellect over time for this study.
The research included over 9,000 boys and girls from the United States. The children were nine or ten years old when they took a battery of psychological tests to assess their general cognitive ability (intelligence). The children and their parents were also asked how much time they spend watching television and movies, playing video games, and using social media.
Followed up after two years
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 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 parent’s 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 behavior 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.”
Intelligence is not constant
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.
One limitation of the study is that it only covered US children and did not differentiate between different types of video games, which makes the results difficult to transfer to children in other countries with other gaming habits. There was also a risk of reporting errors since screen time and habits were self-rated.
The study was financed by the Swedish Research Council and the Strategic Research Area Neuroscience (StratNeuro) at Karolinska Institutet. The researchers report no conflicts of interest.
Reference: “The impact of digital media on children’s intelligence while controlling for genetic differences in cognition and socioeconomic background” by Bruno Sauce, Magnus Liebherr, Nicholas Judd and Torkel Klingberg, 11 May 2022, Scientific Reports.