Do computer games make you smart? – Knowledge

USA, almost exactly 50 years ago: With the “Magnavox Odyssey”, the world’s first video game console that can be used at home in the living room, will go on sale for Christmas. Although the device disappeared from the market in 1975, it is still regarded as the vanguard of the video game age. And right from the start, society and science have been concerned with one question: What is entertainment technology doing to those who use it? The burgeoning video game research in the late 1970s focused its attention primarily on possible positive effects: video games could improve hand-eye coordination or spatial awareness, according to common hypotheses. In fact, numerous experiments have shown that video games can improve visuo-spatial skills. There were later additional indications that more complex functions such as working memory can also benefit from virtual games be able.

Nevertheless, the state of research on cognitive performance and video games is contradictory to this day. At least that’s how the data is assessed by a team led by psychiatrist Bader Chaarani from the University of Vermont in Burlington, USA, which has therefore launched its own study on the subject. The researchers tested two cognitive abilities in children who play video games: first, the ability to keep various visual information mentally available for a short time – a component of the so-called working memory. Second, the ability to suppress a previously learned response to a visual stimulus when prompted by an audio signal, so-called inhibitory control. The results, which are now in the specialist journal JAMA Network Open have appeared, show: Nine- to ten-year-olds who played video games for at least three hours a day performed better on both tests than children who never played video games. In addition, the video game advantage in magnetic resonance imaging corresponded with characteristic differences in brain activity. At first glance, the study thus provides further evidence that video games train the ability to think. But, is this really the truth?

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The type and content of the games used were not taken into account

First of all, the team studied 2,217 children – an impressive number, and drawn from a sample whose demographics are fairly representative of their age group in the United States. The researchers have also tried to “recalculate” numerous factors that could influence the results – including the age and intelligence of the children or the parents’ income.

However, what the team did not consider is the nature and content of the video games used. From the first-person shooter to educational games to the popular mobile phone game Candy Crush, everything was considered a video game. Another problem: In the study, the children who played a lot not only used video games more, but also many other electronic media. Such aspects make it difficult to draw causal conclusions from the data. Strictly speaking, however, this is not possible anyway, since it is a purely cross-sectional study. Theoretically, the data could also be interpreted as follows: those who have advantages in certain cognitive processes are more likely to be successful in video games and therefore use them more than people who are less gifted. Admittedly, this assumption is less plausible in the overall context, because various causally interpretable experiments have already been published that show that video games can actually train individual cognitive abilities.

But the crux of the matter is different: one can raise the question of how significant the observed effects would be for everyday life. It is worth taking a look at learning psychology, which distinguishes between near and far transfer. If training improves performance in tests that closely resemble the learning tasks, this is referred to as a near transfer. On the other hand, the further apart the learning and test material are from each other, the further away would be the transfer if training effects still occur.

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Computer games do not generally improve cognitive performance

Cognitive scientists Fernand Gobet and Giovanni Sala argue that video games can indeed trigger near transfer effects – but not far ones. In concrete terms, this means that video games promote certain visual-spatial abilities – but they hardly promote general cognitive performance, which also includes logical reasoning or language skills. This assessment is based on dozens of video game studies that were included in several meta-analyses in 2017 and 2019, the findings of which the team now in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science once again bundled presented. Video games are in good company here – neither for chess nor for musical training or brain jogging can evidence of distant transfer be found.

That doesn’t mean, by the way, that nearby transfer effects can’t still be valuable. For example, there are indications that medical students with an affinity for video games have advantageswhen learning surgical practices that require the control of surgical robots or other devices. But ultimately, it is important to remember that video games can also have disadvantages. For example, the risk of poorer school performance and certain psychological or behavioral problems increases with longer periods of use – even if these connections in the specialist literature overall rather small stand out. Parents may therefore have good reasons to give their offspring video games as gifts for the coming Christmas season – but increasing their thinking skills is not one of them.

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