Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds

November 25, 2013

Playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children's learning, health and social skills, according to a review of research on the positive effects of video game play to be published by the American Psychological Association.

The study comes out as debate continues among psychologists and other health professionals regarding the effects of violent media on youth. An APA task force is conducting a comprehensive review of research on violence in video games and interactive media and will release its findings in 2014.

"Important research has already been conducted for decades on the negative effects of gaming, including addiction, depression and aggression, and we are certainly not suggesting that this should be ignored," said lead author Isabela Granic, PhD, of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. "However, to understand the impact of video games on children's and adolescents' development, a more balanced perspective is needed."

The article will be published in APA's flagship journal, American Psychologist.

While one widely held view maintains playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, according to several studies reviewed in the article. This is particularly true for shooter video games that are often violent, the authors said. A 2013 meta-analysis found that playing shooter video games improved a player's capacity to think about objects in three dimensions, just as well as academic courses to enhance these same skills, according to the study. "This has critical implications for education and career development, as previous research has established the power of spatial skills for achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Granic said. This enhanced thinking was not found with playing other types of video games, such as puzzles or role-playing games.

Playing video games may also help children develop problem-solving skills, the authors said. The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year, according to a long-term study published in 2013. Children's creativity was also enhanced by playing any kind of video game, including violent games, but not when the children used other forms of technology, such as a computer or cell phone, other research revealed.

Simple games that are easy to access and can be played quickly, such as "Angry Birds," can improve players' moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety, the study said. "If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider," said Granic. The authors also highlighted the possibility that video games are effective tools to learn resilience in the face of failure. By learning to cope with ongoing failures in games, the authors suggest that children build emotional resilience they can rely upon in their everyday lives.

Another stereotype the research challenges is the socially isolated gamer. More than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games such as "Farmville" and "World of Warcraft," the article noted. Multiplayer games become virtual social communities, where decisions need to be made quickly about whom to trust or reject and how to lead a group, the authors said. People who play video games, even if they are violent, that encourage cooperation are more likely to be helpful to others while gaming than those who play the same games competitively, a 2011 study found.

The article emphasized that educators are currently redesigning classroom experiences, integrating video games that can shift the way the next generation of teachers and students approach learning. Likewise, physicians have begun to use video games to motivate patients to improve their health, the authors said. In the video game "Re-Mission," child cancer patients can control a tiny robot that shoots cancer cells, overcomes bacterial infections and manages nausea and other barriers to adhering to treatments. A 2008 international study in 34 medical centers found significantly greater adherence to treatment and cancer-related knowledge among children who played "Re-Mission" compared to children who played a different computer game.

"It is this same kind of transformation, based on the foundational principle of play, that we suggest has the potential to transform the field of mental health," Granic said. "This is especially true because engaging and youth is one of the most challenging tasks clinicians face."

The authors recommended that teams of psychologists, clinicians and game designers work together to develop approaches to that integrate playing with traditional therapy.

Explore further: Why video games make healthy stocking stuffers

More information: "The Benefits of Playing Video Games," Isabela Granic, PhD, Adam Lobel, PhD, and Rutger C.M.E. Engels, PhD, Radboud University Nijmegen; Nijmegen, The Netherlands; American Psychologist, 2013.

Related Stories

Why video games make healthy stocking stuffers

November 15, 2013
Don't feel guilty for stuffing Sonic in the Santa sack - video games can be good for your children's mental health.

Beyond the beat-em-up: Video games are good for young people

August 30, 2013
Research and media attention has usually focused on possible negative impacts of video games. But a clear case to support such links is yet to emerge and even people who argue that video games have a negative impact acknowledge ...

Video games do not make vulnerable teens more violent, study says

August 26, 2013
Do violent video games such as 'Mortal Kombat,' 'Halo' and 'Grand Theft Auto' trigger teenagers with symptoms of depression or attention deficit disorder to become aggressive bullies or delinquents? No, according to Christopher ...

Video game 'exercise' for an hour a day may enhance certain cognitive skills

March 13, 2013
Playing video games for an hour each day can improve subsequent performance on cognitive tasks that use similar mental processes to those involved in the game, according to research published March 13 in the open access journal ...

Researchers identify risk-factors for addictive video-game use among adults

September 23, 2013
New research from the University of Missouri indicates escapism, social interaction and rewards fuel problematic video-game use among "very casual" to "hardcore" adult gamers. Understanding individual motives that contribute ...

Teens 'eat more, cheat more' after playing violent video games

November 25, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Playing violent video games not only increases aggression, it also leads to less self-control and more cheating, a new study finds.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.