Are video games effective on children’s intelligence? Could it improve intelligence? Or is it vice versa? A new study claims to answer these questions…
How does playing video games affect intelligence?
While research and data are accumulating rapidly, much remains to be determined as to exactly what intelligence is or how it can be accurately measured. That’s why questions about the impact of children’s playing video games on their intelligence have long existed without a clear answer. A May 2022 report is among several studies that claim to have found the right answer.
Scholars have long asked questions among parents, students, and gamers about whether video games make us smarter, harm our intelligence, have both effects, or have no effect at all. Research results show as many different answers as questions. There are several reasons for this.
First, there are many questions about what constitutes a video game. Should mobile games and console games be in the same category? What about puzzle games and shooting games? Do online multiplayer games have a different effect than solo games? Also, a person’s day includes many activities and it is very difficult to isolate gaming as a single variable.
If one child loves video games and studying and the other hates both, does it mean that video games contribute to intelligence? If a child can play video games because his family’s financial situation is better than another child, how much of the intelligence gap is due to gaming and how much is due to different economic opportunities?
And perhaps most importantly, what constitutes intelligence? Notes? IQ tests? Is it something else? Even that is debatable.
The authors of the May 2022 scientific report published by the journal Nature say they are at least getting close to answering some of these questions. The paper, titled “The impact of digital media on children’s intelligence while controlling for genetic differences in cognition and socioeconomic background,” corrects its findings for genetics and parent education. This is of great importance as the authors argue that “intelligence, educational attainment, and other cognitive abilities are all highly heritable.”
IS INTELLIGENCE HERITIZED?
While some argue against the claim that intelligence is genetically predetermined, the authors also consider parents’ education. Although education level is not compatible with household income, this can arguably be a good indicator for complex socio-economic data.
The research includes baseline information on nearly 10,000 American children ages nine to 10, and follow-up studies two years later, with more than half of them. The researchers also look at “polygenic scores” to account for genetic differences.
The authors analyzed screen time, which includes time spent watching videos, playing video games, and interacting with social media. He also analyzed intelligence using five intelligence measures. The results were quite interesting: “Basically, intelligence spent watching and socializing was negatively associated with intelligence, while gaming was not. Two years later, playing games had a positive effect on intelligence, but socializing had no effect (…) unexpectedly, watching videos also had a positive effect on intelligence.”
Also, the article says that not only is the game itself positively correlated, but the time spent playing the game is also positively correlated. In other words, playing more games means more cognitive boost. Of course, the fact that no time limit is specified here easily justifies skepticism about the results.
The authors of the study point to a few issues with their report, as any principal investigator group should. Some of these issues are the questions mentioned above that affect all such research.
DOES PLAY TIME EFFECT INTELLIGENCE?
First, screen time was collected from surveys, and researchers have no clear way of knowing whether the reported games are smartphone games, console games, online or offline. Also, as always when it comes to survey data, it is possible that the people who filled out the survey slightly changed their answers to make themselves look “better”. If parents wanted to present themselves with stricter or more flexible rules, they may have misreported these data.
There are also problems that the authors did not specify. Tests used for measuring intelligence used word and image recognition, memory, spatial logic, sound response, and similar measures, but did not include an IQ test. There were also no measurements for language perception, math, logic, and some other factors.
Since it can be said that the criteria used for intelligence are the characteristics that make you good at video games in general, we can say that it is not surprising that the research results show a positive result for video games but an ineffective result for socialization.
Watching videos helps factors such as image recognition and voice response more, while social media can contribute to language perception, logic, and other untested metrics.
Well, then how much do games affect intelligence?
Intelligence is a multiple concept that encompasses many different aspects and domains, and so what aspects of intelligence researchers decide to test has a decisive influence on the outcome of their research.
In short, looking at all the research, we can only answer “somewhat” to the question of whether playing video games has an effect on your child’s intelligence. In particular, video games that require thinking and reacting can certainly have a positive effect on some aspects of intelligence, but have no effect on some aspects of intelligence. So, as with most things in life, there are benefits to playing video games in moderation. But they certainly do not replace learning (at least for now).