Effects of video games on children

The effects of video games on children can be positive and negative. In fact, medical and social sciences research indicates that both harmful and beneficial effects of even violent video games exist. We review the most commonly agreed upon effects of video games on children so that you can form your own opinion about video games and their role in your child’s life.

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The video game debate

Hundred of pieces of medical and social science research (both published and unpublished) currently address the effects of video games on children. But it is difficult to find objective information about video games when looking at the studies. Personal interests and bias exist throughout the research as those on both sides of video game debate claim that scientific literature supports their opinions. Therefore, we propose to outline four common claims from both sides of the video game debate here to help you make sense of it all.

Types of video games studied

First, it will help to understand the context of the types of video games that researchers are studying. These fall into a few general categories:

1. Pro-social video games – Games in which game characters help and support each other in nonviolent ways.

2. Nonviolent video games – -Games characterized by relatively little or no violence which can include environmental hazards or enemies but are resolved by avoidance or distance or only via violence to non living characters (robots).

3. Violent video games – Games which depict the graphic expression of physical force from character(s) to other(s).

Why are video games bad for kids?

1. Potential for compulsive use or addiction

The front-striatal neural pathway in the brain (which has been strongly implicated in drug addiction and pathological gambling) is activated during video game play and may reinforce pathological use of this technology. Little is known about how these pathways in the brain mature or how their development is affected by technology use. but it is theorized that excessive video game play can alter some children’s ability to function normally in society (video game addiction).

2. Increase in aggression

Scientists and the general public remain concerned that playing violent video games may increase the risk of aggression in players. However, this correlation remains unclear. Some proponents claim that violent video games stimulate aggression in players in the short run and increase the risk for aggressive behaviors later in life. While others claim that the correlation is weak and not causal.

However, playing violent video games has been seen to increase dehumanization, or the tendency to denying humanness to other people. When dehumanization occurs, a person perceives a victim to be less human and can provoke aggressive behavior. Exposure to violent video games has also been associated with decreases in empathy and prosocial behavior.

3. Increase in food intake

A recent study has shown that a single session of video game play is associated with an increased food intake, without increased sensations of hunger and was not compensated for during the rest of the day. Implications could point to increased weight gain as a result of video game play.

Positive effects of video games on children

1. Improved attention skills

Children who report playing action games show significantly increased attentional skills as compared with those who do not. It also seems that video game use is not a significant predictor of attention problems in children. Instead, other risk factors such as male gender, antisocial traits, family environment and anxiety best predict attention problems.

2. Increased cognition (information processing capabilities)

Playing video games (even violent games) may promote certain positive developments, particularly related to visuospatial information processing. Additionally, increased video game play has also been associated with an improved ability to solve applied problems. In other words, video games can enhance visual perception of spatial relationships among objects.

3. Increased pro-social thoughts

Video games designed to promote behavior change may help children learn healthier behaviors. In one cross-cultural it has been found that exposure to pro-social video games increases the accessibility of pro-social thoughts. Additionally, research has found that educational games and software are effective teaching tools.

More studies video games are good

The video game and technology debate continues

Until scientists establish a direct causal relationship between video game play and behavioral changes, the debate around the pros and cons of playing video games will continue. Where do you sit in this debate? Have you noticed any effects of video games on you or your children? What can and should we, as a society, do to address the negative effects of video games on children? Or are parents alone responsible? Please leave your opinions below.

references: Children, Wired: For Better and For Worse
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 April
Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2011 April;86(4):315-21.
Psychological Science 2011 March
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2011 January;40(1):33-8.
The Journal of Social Psychology 2011 Mar-Apr;151(2):121-8.
Journal of Psychiatric Research 2010 December
Psychological Bulletin 2010 March;136(2):151-181.
Psychological Science 2009 May;20(5):594-602.
Pediatrics 2008 Nov;122(5):e1067-72
Psychiatric Quarterly 2007 December;78(4):309-16.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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