girl-game

More video games, more attention trouble?

IOWA STATE (US) — Children who focus on video games for long periods—but otherwise have trouble paying attention—may be stuck in a vicious cycle.

Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, and graduate student Edward Swing worked with researchers in Singapore to examine video-game playing as it relates to attention problems and impulsiveness in a sample of 3,034 children and adolescents from Singapore.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, tracked the participants over three years.

The researchers say their findings raise concern about the potential for video games contributing to further attention problems.

“I’ve had numerous parents come up to me and tell me that their child has ADHD and the only thing they could focus on for two hours at a time is video games,” says Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab.

“And I would wonder to myself whether that was a good thing or not. This study begins to answer that question, and it looks as if it’s not going to help your children in the long run.”

“Parents might think that playing video games makes their child (with attention problems) more manageable or even helps them focus their attention, but that may be at the expense of their behavior in other situations,” Swing adds.

“Maybe in the classroom, they’re not getting that same kind of stimulation and excitement, so they can’t function as well. Or by spending so much time playing video games, some children may miss out on opportunities to develop sustained, focused attention that they need in school.”

Data from 12 schools in Singapore

With help from collaborators at Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health and National Institute of Education, the researchers collected data from the sample children, ages 8 to 17 years old, at 12 schools.

The children provided information about their video-game playing habits by completing questionnaires in their classrooms at three intervals—each a year apart in grades three, four, seven, and eight. They also completed psychological tests commonly used to measure attention and impulsiveness.

The authors defined attention problems as having a difficult time engaging in or sustaining behavior to reach a goal. They note that while previous research found that playing video games can improve visual attention for rapid and accurate recognition of information from the environment, that doesn’t help a child’s attention in some settings.

“In most video games or with most screen media, there is constant flickering of light which forces an orienting response,” Gentile says. “There are also sound effects and noises, and you need to attend to them, too. I think of these as crutches for attention—they support your attention so you don’t have to work hard to attend.

“That’s very different than being in the classroom where the teacher doesn’t have sound effects, lighting, special effects, music, and camera angles,” he continues. “The child has to work to attend rather than having external support for attention. Our data suggest that the children who already are most at risk for attention problems play the most games, which becomes a vicious cycle.”

Amount of play is a key factor

Although the study indicates that playing violent video games can also be linked to greater impulsivity and attention problems, the overall amount of time spent playing any type of video game proved to be a greater factor. This was the case regardless of a child’s gender, race or socioeconomic status.

Gentile says the study’s results should make parents more aware of their children’s screen time.

“The good news is, when the teacher or school counselor calls you and says, ‘Your child is having problems paying attention,’ this gives you a first step before having to medicate your child,” he says.

“Instead, you can look at your child’s media habits and really reduce the time to the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics—even less time for children with existing attention problems.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour per day of total media screen time (including TV, DVDs, video games, Internet, iPad, etc.) for children in elementary school, and two hours for children in secondary school. Gentile says U.S. children currently average more than six hours of screen time per day.

More news from Iowa State University: www.news.iastate.edu/

chat9 Comments

You are free to share this article under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

9 Comments

  1. Addicting Games Arena

    really good piece of information, I had come to know about your site from my friend shubodh, kolkatta,i have read atleast nine posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your site gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a lot once again,
    Regards: Addicting Games Arena

  2. Janice

    I was starting to notice this as well with my kids. Its the middle of the school year, so this was not helping. I sold a bunch of games to yourstuff4cash.com and let the kids save the money for other things. Games were just taking up too much time.

  3. cranboh

    “this gives you a first step before having to medicate your child,” he says.” No child EVER “has” to be medicated, so I have a real problem with this sentence in the article. We are the parents, we make the decisions. And I think it’s high time schools adapted to realities of who children are. They are moving, shaking, jumping beings, who were never meant to sit still for hours on end. Time for some educator somewhere to get creative and offer better solutions for children who “can’t sit still” then having them drugged.

  4. cranboh

    “… This gives you a first step before having to medicate your child,” he says.” No child EVER “has” to be medicated, so I have a real problem with this sentence in the article.

    We are the parents, we make the decisions, and I think it’s high time schools adapted to realities of who children are. Many are moving, shaking, jumping beings, who were never meant to sit still for hours on end. Time for some educator somewhere to get creative and offer better solutions for children who “can’t sit still” other then having them drugged.

  5. Gus

    Wow, a bunch of lopsided opinions on the comments… games are not bad per se, the article points out that spending too much time in them is potentially bad for kids with propensity to ADD-like behaviour. A bit of gaming is probably good, and moderation is key (we are parents, after all).

    Same goes for TV!

    Oh, and about NO KID ever needs to be medicated, that’s an overgeneralization. Which is to say we should have a few percent that need that, and not a third or half of the kids. Changing schooling methods is a nice suggestion (something like the Montessorri method, perhaps?), but slightly off-topic to the discussion…

  6. cortese

    Very interesting article.

    I agree with Douglas Gentile findings and I too believe that children spend too many hours playing games, but we should make a clear distinction here, not all games are equal.

    Previous research found that playing certain games can actually improve visual attention, while others are very destructive and could lead to attention problems.

    We need to look at what game is linked to this attention difficulties and understand why. Our children have trouble focusing and we, parents, find so convenient to put all the blame on video games.

  7. Wilson

    Gentile is a crock. Stop being force fed lies.

  8. Bill Copeland

    Video games are a source of solace to those who are unable to steer their bodies and minds through a world as demanding and boring as ours has become. No child ever needs to be put on medication UNLESS that child or her parents wants her to succeed in the straight and narrow path that leads to better jobs, higher pay, more choices later in life. All the creative jumping around gets you now, once childhood is over (excepting a few rock stars and stand-up comics), is a tough row to hoe. This might not be so true if the world were not an overcrowded place with no more frontiers. The Chinese, the most overcrowded of them all, discovered this first and look how they are doing. We can only gird for the future as we mourn the loss of the forests and streams that we once had in our backyards and that taught us how to seek and capture, build and destroy, plan attacks and make peace with competitors who were not so overwhelming as now.

  9. Degu

    I completely DISAGREE with this “study”. If anything, there’s tons of evidence and plain out researches showing that videogames can, and have improved various skills of children and older people. Better eye-hand coordination and learning languages are the two most obvious and common phenomenons with active players, but there’s also lots of proof about them improving person’s memory and yes, the focusing skills. Creativity and visual imagination usually also benefit from gaming experience.

    If anything, the people blaming games for “attention troubles” most probably have neglected the possibility of pre-existing mental issues (like ADHD) in their researches. Alternatively I’d blame the parents, who may see the games (STILL) as “just children’s toys” and as a valid way for them to spend most of their free time. I’m also extremely worried about adults letting their kids play titles that are NOT MEANT FOR CHILDREN (M-rated violent games); it’s no wonder if your child is not able to focus, is hyperactive and even aggressive, if you let them be exposed to this kind of media at too young age.

We respect your privacy.