Can video gaming improve children’s cognitive prowess?

A research study conducted by no less an authority as Oxford University suggests video games can help a child’s development

There is little doubt that high-quality digital content in a classroom set up can help to improve the educational experience of a wide range of children.

The appropriate use of digital resources can become an integral part of a pedagogical strategy, but surely the role of video games has little place in the development of children’s minds? Or does it? A research study conducted by no less an authority as Oxford University suggests otherwise.

Firstly, the oft-cited notion that video games engender negative outcomes for kids is undermined by the report, first published in the journal Pediatrics. Their findings showed that the sociability of children who played such games for about an hour a day was actually improved, when compared to other groups. Indeed, Dr Andrew Przybylski, of the Oxford Internet Institute, who authored the report said that high levels of video gaming appeared to be linked to children’s behavioural problems in only the weakest sense, something that is often claimed of gaming.

So much for debunking the idea that video gaming necessarily leads to unwanted outcomes. Can it really stimulate children’s brains? According to the report, “games provide a wide range of novel cognitive challenges,” which, in turn, leads to opportunities for children to explore in a safe environment. Because gaming can also be fun pursuit, often conducted with friends, the report also claims that these cognitive hurdles lead to improved, “socialisation with peers.” Furthermore, the report went on to state that there were a number of reasons to consider that playing video games might offer beneficial cognitive outcomes when compared to other screen-based activities. In particular, the report’s researchers were keen to compare ‘active’ video gaming with ‘non-interactive’ entertainment, like watching television.

Of course, it should be said that puzzle-solving and developing hand-eye coordination from playing games is often an age-related phenomenon. Younger children are likely to enjoy the simpler games available from online sources, such as Marvel Kids, where they can relate to the superhero themes readily. Older children are more predisposed to gaming platforms which rely more heavily on quick finger responses on consoles which can be manipulated in many different ways, often requiring the highest levels of coordination.

The results of the Oxford University study appears to counter a previous report into the effects of video gaming conducted in 2012. Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this study primarily focussed on violent video games which were based in reality, often dystopian ones, such as the renowned Grand Theft Auto series. In contrast to the fantasy action of superhero games, this series of games was found to be linked to aggressiveness, but only in teenagers. Conducted by researchers from Dartmouth College in the United States, it collated data over the course of four years. With the benefit of the Oxford University report, therefore, the type of game being played seems to be crucial to the outcomes created in children’s minds. Given the right sort of game which promotes sociability and puzzle-solving – and so long as it is played for a reasonable amount of time – it seems that cognitive prowess can indeed be improved by gaming.

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