A new study showed that playing video games could be beneficial for children. Those who did could have better working memory later in life.
The association between better working memory and video games was revealed by researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), a private open university in Spain. They found that children who played video games had better working memory, compared to those who did not. That benefit could persist in adolescence and even adulthood, despite not playing games in later years. Their findings support previous research about the positive influence of video games on cognitive abilities. They published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Parents Think That Video Games as Reward for Good Behavior
Video games are very addictive for many people. Both children and adults can be easily entertained by console, mobile, and PC games. Even many are entertained by the less challenging game titles. This is the main reason why health experts do not recommend video games for children and teens. They may develop an addiction to the habit and ignore other aspects of their lives. However, there are cases wherein video games are therapeutic for people suffering from emotional and mental pain. So, the application of video games can be argued as case to case. As long as a person can control the habit, video games are unlikely to threaten their wellbeing.
According to YouGov, a British internet-based market research firm, many parents considered video games as a reward for children who showed good behavior. They would use it to motivate kids to maintain good behavior. A survey conducted between December 17 and 18, 2018, showed that 60% of parents reward their children with video games for good behavior and good grades. While 48% would permit video games to improve the teamwork skills of their kids, and 44% would permit video games to let kids catch-up with each other. Around 52% of non-parents would use video games as a reward for good behavior and grades, 39% would use it for honing teamwork among kids, and 35% would use it to let children stay up-to-date with each other.
Of course, parents expressed concern about excessive video game hours. Even if some would allow video games as a reward, they would still impose maximum hours. For the maximum three hours of playing video games, 61% of parents agreed during the school year, 40% during summer vacation, and 45% during school breaks. For the maximum of four hours, 31% of parents agreed during the school year, 52% during summer vacation, and 48% agreed during school breaks. And for no permission of playing video games at specific times, 8% of parents agreed during the school year, 8% agreed during summer vacation, and 7% agreed during school breaks.
Gamers Could Have Better Working Memory
In cognitive studies, working memory is a function associated with storing memory. But the function is limited in memory capacity and cannot hold that memory for long. At first, it seems that working memory does not require significant training. In truth, improving working memory can lead to a substantial advantage in processing details to yield better decisions at a moment's notice. This is because working memory allows manipulation of temporarily stored information. Thus, working memory guides a person's reasoning to make a decision.
At UCO, researchers investigated how far video games positively influence the brain. Previous research suggested that playing video games could lead to changes in brain structure. Meaning, some brain regions could be larger. Larger regions might have better functions, such as improved attention or visual-spatial skills. To collect evidence, the team recruited 27 individuals aged between 18 and 40 years. The participants were composed of those with and without experience with video games.
"People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result," Marc Palaus, the first author of the study.
In the study, researchers analyzed the cognitive skills of each participant. Working memory was the highlighted cognitive skill and it had been analyzed in three points. First, before the training in video gaming. Second, at the end of the training. And third, 15 days after the training ended. One of the games used was the Nintendo Super Mario 64.
Aside from video games, researchers added 10 sessions of transcranial magnetic stimulation – a non-invasive brain stimulation. It was used to determine the changes in brain activity among participants. Through magnetic waves, the procedure could detect brain activity and treat certain mental health conditions like depression. They utilized it to know if combining video games and the stimulation would increase cognitive performance.
The other game was a 3D platform adventure. Researchers introduced the game to link the potential of the genre in stimulating cognitive performance. Some game genres might either be mild or extreme to some people, while others would be equally acceptable to a wide range of audiences. The main idea was to uncover what game elements might strengthen cognitive skills.
Results showed that those who did not experience video games as a child failed to obtain the benefits. Researchers observed that those who lacked experience with video games were slower, compared to those who played as children. People who played video games as children performed better in processing 3D objects. But people who did play before managed to match the performance of those with experience after the training.
Unfortunately, the combination of video games and the stimulation procedure did not yield significant changes. Researchers speculated that some factors might have affected the results. If a different set of parameters was used, the results might show better performance from the combination. The only thing they noted was under normal circumstances, stimulating the brain while playing video games could increase performance for up to 10 minutes.
The study suggested that video games can improve the cognitive performance of children. That enhancement can be helpful later in life. But the improvement is not applicable in activities unrelated to video games.