Playing video games can help children and teens build better brain circuits important for learning, but keeping playtime limited is the key to reaping these benefits, as too much gaming can have detrimental effects, according to a new study published in the journal Annals of Neurology.
The findings show that one hour of gaming per week was associated with stronger motor skills and higher achievement scores, but no further benefits were found for kids who played more than two hours per week. In fact, excessive time spent on video games was linked to behavioral problems, peer conflicts and poorer social skills.
For the study, researcher Jesus Pujol, M.D., of the Hospital del Mar in Spain, and his colleagues set out to investigate the connection between weekly video game use and certain cognitive abilities and conduct-related problems. The study, which involved 2,442 children aged seven to 11 years, was conducted in an effort to address the long-term debate over the potential benefits and risks of video gaming in adolescents.
The researchers discovered that playing video games for one hour per week was associated with better motor skills and higher achievement scores in school, but no further benefits were observed in children who played for more than two hours per week.
The researchers also found that excessive weekly time spent gaming was consistently associated with conduct problems, peer conflicts, and reduced social abilities, with such negative effects being especially prominent in children who played nine or more hours of video games each week.
The brain function benefits of limited playing, however, are quite significant. When the research team looked at magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brains of a subgroup of children in the study, they found that gaming was linked with changes in basal ganglia white matter and functional connectivity.
“Gaming use was associated with better function in brain circuits critical for learning based on the acquisition of new skills through practice,” said Pujol.
“Children traditionally acquire motor skills through action, for instance in relation to sports and outdoor games. Neuroimaging research now suggests that training with desktop virtual environments is also capable of modulating brain systems that support motor skill learning.”
“Video gaming per se is neither good nor bad, but its level of use makes it so.”