New Study Links Video Games to Increased Impulsivity, Decreased Attention

February 29, 2012

New Study Links Video Games to Increased Impulsivity, Decreased Attention

Many studies that surround childhood behavioral problems and issues like Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) focus on biology and genetics. Many parents, educators and other experts expect that the problems that stem from such disorders, such as impulse control, begin and end in the brain. However, a new study from the American Psychological Association has found that environmental factors also seem to play an important role. Specifically, this study looked at the effect that video game play had on children’s impulse control and the factors that lead them to play more video games. They Study of Video Games The lead author of this study, “Video Game Playing, Attention Problems, and Impulsiveness: Evidence of Bidirectional Causality,” was Dr. Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University. Dr. Gentile and his colleagues gathered data from 3,034 children who ranged from ages 8 up to 17. Following the children over the span of three years, the researchers asked each child to fill out a survey regarding his or her video game playing habits once a year beginning in grades three, four, seven or eight. Along with the information provided by each child regarding his or her video game play, Dr. Gentile and his team conducted common psychological testing on each subject that sought to measure attention and impulsivity. These tests were also conducted yearly. Though researchers did specifically set out to compare the influence of violent video games on the attention and impulsivity of their players, they also looked at other, non-violent offerings as well. Ultimately, though violent games did have a measured effect, the research focused on total game time instead, this proved a more significant factor. What Is “Attention”? For the purpose of this study, “attention problems” were defined as difficulty engaging in or sustaining the behavior required to reach a goal, in particular when a subject is boring or difficult. Here, the researchers sought to look at attention and video games differently than it has been previously, putting special emphasis on the types of attention problems most prevalent and disrupting in the schoolroom. It is generally recognized that video game play can enhance one’s ability to pay attention visually and process that information. However, the attention skills necessary for deep concentration, such as that required in school, may be more important. The results of this study seem to suggest that these deep concentration skills may be adversely affected by video game play, especially among those most vulnerable students. The Study’s Findings Open Some Eyes When Dr. Gentile and his team sat down to calculate the results of their study, their findings sparked great interest in popular media and education research. What they found was that not only did increased video game play diminish attention skills and increased impulsiveness in children, but also that those children prone to attention and impulsivity problems were more likely to play more video games. Also, the influence of total video game play was more statistically significant than violent video game play. In other words, the problems that may begin as biological or genetic are then enhanced through the environmental influence of video game play, and though there are other issues with violent video games, any video game play will affect attention ability and impulse control equally if engaged in for too long. More significantly, the increase in attention problems and impulsiveness was not changed when compared across gender, racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. This further confirms that it is the environmental influence of video game play that impacts a child’s ability to concentrate or control his or her impulses. Ultimately, the authors of this study hope that it will open parents and educators minds to the environmental influences on attention problems like ADHD. What are your feelings? Have you seen video games impact a child’s ability to concentrate or control his or her impulses?



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