Video games and attention difficulties

Video games and attention difficulties

By Liz Lockhart 

Many parents worry about their children playing video games.  Are they playing for too long?  Do they play too often?  Is the game suitable for them?   

Until now research into attention problems in children has focused on factors such as genetic and biological links.  New research is taking a look at the possible link between attention disorders and environmental factors, in the form of video games.

The lead author of the study is Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University.  The study findings are published in the first issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal ‘Psychology and Popular Media Culture’.

The study suggests that children who suffer from attention difficulties are inclined to play more video games but children without this problem who spend a great deal of time playing video games of any type may also develop attention difficulties and impulsivity.

The findings suggest that playing violent video games is linked to attention and impulsivity difficulties, although it is the amount of time that is spent overall playing all types of video games that proved to be the strongest factor.  The researchers found that this held true to all children regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status or race.

The study centred on twelve schools in Singapore.  Data was collected by researchers over a period of three years from children aged between 8 – 17 years of age.  In total 3,034 children were assessed in this study.

Questionnaires were utilised to collect information about the children’s video game habits.  The questionnaires were completed in the classrooms, starting at grade three and then again at yearly intervals.  Psychological tests were also used to assess the children’s levels of attention and impulsivity. 

The children were asked questions to assess their attention levels.  Questions such as how often they ‘fail to give close attention to detail  or make careless mistakes in their work’ and how often do they fail to hear the end of a question before they ‘blurt out the answers’.

In order to assess impulsivity, the children had to choose times when they would describe themselves as feeling that ‘I often make things worse because I act without thinking’ or ‘I concentrate easily’.

Gentile says ‘It is possible that electronic media use can impair attention necessary for concentration even as it enhances the ability to notice and process visual information.’

The authors further say that by understanding some of the environmental influences that video gaming may have on attention and impulsivity can help to develop more effective solutions for children and parents.  Previous studies have suggested that video games can improve visual attention and that the recognition of information from the environment can also be improved in this way. 

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