New Research Finds Video Games May Boost Academics, Don’t Affect Mental Health

Some 20% of kids reported playing at least 5 hours a week.

Some 20% of kids reported playing at least 5 hours a week.

A new piece of research out of Columbia University offers a double dose of good news for those who support video game play among your children. The study, which was published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, concluded that kids who played video games five or more hours a week did better in school and suffered no emotional or mental health problems.

The research appears to counter the still widely held view that video games can cause young children to become socially disengaged or to ignore schoolwork.

The research sampled the effects of game play on some 3,000 children in Europe, but relied on the responses of the kids’ parents to compile the results, but it still represents a huge sample of children and the results were impressive.

According to the findings, high video game usage was associated with a 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence.

But as good as the news is on the educational performance side of the equation, the social component of gaming was even more positive.

“The authors concluded that playing video games is today, even more so than in the past two decades, a highly social activity for most children as the vast majority of children play their video games with a friend,” the study noted. “Some games explicitly reward effective cooperation, supporting and helping behavior.”

Prof. Katherine Keyes

Prof. Katherine Keyes

This led to kids who play more games reporting fewer relationship problems than those who played fewer games or no games at all.

“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community,” one of the researchers, Katherine Keyes noted.

The conclusion of Keyes and her colleagues’ study could not be better sounding for those who advocate the use of games for both educational and social and emotional learning, noting:

The results of the present study suggest that video game use is not associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. On the contrary, the data presented here suggest that video games are a protective factor, especially regarding peer relationship problems for the children who are the most involved in video games. Finally, video games seem to be linked to better intellectual functioning and academic achievement.

According to our data, video gaming is entirely beneficial for cognitive functioning as well as for some aspects of mental health.

Still, Keyes offered a bit of caution at being too quick about allowing your kids to play countless hours of Minecraft or Clash of Clans.

In a release she was quick to add, “We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success.”

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Lee Banville Lee Banville is editor of Gamesandlearning.org and editorial director of the Games and Learning Publishing Council. He is also an Associate Professor of Journalism at The University of Montana. For 13 years he ran the online and digital operations of the PBS NewsHour, overseeing coverage of domestic and international stories.