Children who constantly play video games may perform poorly in school, but the effects are so insignificant as to hardly matter, new research suggests. Popular concerns about the negative effects of gaming, the study found, may be exaggerated.
“There were surprisingly few empirical studies examining respective effects of computer games, particularly with regard to educational outcomes,” study co-author Timo Gnambs, a professor of psychology at the Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria, told Fatherly. “We wanted to study the effects of computer gaming on academic outcomes from a longitudinal perspective.”
More than two-thirds of American adolescents report playing computer games in some form, and a bulk of research has focused on how this might contribute to negative outcomes like violence and aggression. The studies that have examined educational outcomes have yielded mixed results — some showed that gaming hurts school performance, and yet others showed that gaming had positive effects. Still, these studies were limited because they did not look at how gaming affected children over time.
To do this, Gnambs and his colleagues followed 3,554 adolescents for two years, tracking their gaming habits and grades, and testing their core competencies in reading and math as well as their reasoning abilities. Researchers found that intensive computer gaming did have a negative impact on grades, especially when kids spend multiple hours playing them on school days. But even when children played for up to eight hours a day, the effects on academic achievement were only slight. Likewise, the amount of gaming did not seem to change children’s core competencies at all.
“We found only very small effects on grades and none on actual competencies,” Gnambs says. “I was also not surprised to find rather negligible effects of the time spent on computer games on grades or competence development.”
Overall, the current the current study suggests that parents may be better off focusing on when children play computer games, instead of how many hours they log. “I think the most important thing is to regulate gaming activities based on current situational demands — before exams or important tests it would be advisable to allocate more time to school preparation,” he says, “Longer gaming times seem less problematic when students are not faced with pressing school assignments.”