A study has found that playing video games as a child may have a positive effect on intelligence.
The study, published in Nature, looked at 9,855 children from the USA who took part in the ABCD study – a long-term study of brain development and health of children in the United States, aged 9-10, following them over two years. The study also looked at the effect of gaming alongside watching activities (TV, YouTube, Twitch, etc) and social activities (e.g. TikTok, Facebook, etc) on children's intelligence, controlling for other factors affecting intelligence including socioeconomic status.
"Digital media defines modern childhood, but its cognitive effects are unclear and hotly debated. We believe that studies with genetic data could clarify causal claims and correct for the typically unaccounted role of genetic predispositions," the team wrote in the study, adding "our focus here is on the impact of screen time on intelligence: the ability to learn effectively, think rationally, understand complex ideas, and adapt to new situations."
The study came back with results broadly in line with previous studies: playing video games does not damage intelligence, and could, in fact, improve it.
"Our most important finding was that Gaming positively impacted the amount of change in intelligence so that children who played more video games at 9-10 years showed the most gains in intelligence two years later," the team wrote.
"This is consistent with cognitive benefits documented in experimental studies on video gaming. Unexpectedly, watching videos also benefited intelligence, contrary to prior research on the effect of watching TV."
The team found, following up with the children two years later, that those who spent longer than average playing computer games had increased their IQ points by around 2.5 points above the average for their age group.
When the other types of screen time activities were looked at – children who used social media and watched content more than the average – there wasn't an effect on intelligence, positively or negatively.
“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 said in a press release. “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.”
They note that a previous study had shown that expertise in certain video games correlated positively with intelligence.