The Impact of Video Games on Cognitive Development

A question psychologists often hear from parents is:  “Are video games good or bad for my child?” Parents have foremost in their minds wanting what is best for their child.  The negative effects of video games as told to them by popular media sources (i.e., social isolation, obesity, violence) on children’s development tend to overshadow any good.  Video games are stigmatized as being time wasting, brain drains. Unfortunately, often lost in this discussion are the significant positive effects that video game playing can have on cognitive development.

You read that correctly: video games can be just as good for your child’s brain development as getting a full night’s rest and eating healthy. Contrary to popular belief, video games are not just brain drains. Rather, they can be “personal brain trainers.” Much like exercise can build muscle, the combination of the concentration required for video game play and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine when a player wins, strengthen neural circuits within the brain.

Several abilities tapped by video games are those that psychologists consider to be the core areas of intelligence. In an article that appeared in the American Journal of Play (Fall 2014), researchers examined recent research demonstrating long-lasting positive effects of action video games on basic mental processes (e.g., perception, attention, memory, and decision-making). The authors discussed why video games are beneficial to brain development: they require players to move rapidly (processing speed), keep track of many items at once (working memory, processing speed, attention, vigilance), hold various pieces of information in their mind at once (working memory), and make split-second decisions (reasoning).

Other mental skills that are enhanced by video games include: following directions, improving basic visual processes, strengthening hand-eye coordination, and developing fine motor skills. To parents who fear of the harmful effects of video games, take a second to think about the positive effects. They may do more good than originally thought.