The effects of video games on school achievement
© 2010 - 2013 Gwen Dewar, all rights reserved
Testing the effects of video games: The importance of controlled experiments
Some survey-based studies have reported a link between video game
use and poor achievement in school. But correlation doesn’t prove
causation. Kids who struggle in school may be more likely to seek out
video games as a distraction.
A recent experimental study helps address this ambiguity. Robert
Weis and Brittany Cerankosky selected a group of boys who didn’t own
video games (Weis and Cerankosky 2010). Then each boy was randomly
assigned to one of two conditions:
- The “video games now" group got their systems immediately
The “video games later" group didn’t receive their systems until months later—after the end of the study
Researchers tracked the boys’ academic performance at school, and found evidence of an effect. Not only did the kids who received game systems spend less time doing homework, they also performed worse on standardized tests of reading and writing four month's later. Moreover, their teachers were more likely to report academic problems.
Such results are consistent with surveys on adolescents who play
video games in the United States. In one representative sample of
American adolescents, aged 10 to 19, kids who played video games spent
30% less time reading and 34% less time doing homework (Cummings and
But is all the news bad? No. Video game detractors seem eager to
publicize studies that support their views. But the evidence suggests
that there isn’t any simple lesson regarding the effects of video games
on school performance.
Some research suggests that
kids who regularly play video games are at a slightly increased risk for developing attention problems at school.
And it’s clear that
some kids are out of control--playing video games so frequently that the games begin to dominate their lives.
But it's also likely that playing action video games can boost visual spatial skills and perhaps even help dyslexic children improve their reading ability.
So there are both costs and benefits associated with video games.
And it's not unlikely that the effects of games on school achievement
depend on the content of the game.
Educational video games not associated with poor school performance
Erin Hastings led a survey of 70 school boys, aged 6 to 10 years
(Hastings et al 2010). Her team asked parents to describe their sons’
usage of video games, and to report on their sons’ academic performance
(e.g., the boys’ grade point averages).
Subsequent analysis revealed that time spent playing was linked
with low school competence--but only for violent video games. Kids who
played educational video games (like Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit) did
not suffer academically.
For more evidence-based information about video games, check out the Parenting Science guide to the effects of video games on children.
References: The effects of video games on school achievement
Cummings HM and Vandewater EA. 2007. Relation of Adolescent Video
Game Play to Time Spent in Other Activities. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.
Hastings EC, Karas TL, Winsler A, Way E, Madigan A, Tyler S.
2009. Young children’s video game/computer game use: Relations with
school performance and behavior. Issues Ment Health Nurs.
Weis R and Cerankosky BC. 2010. Effects of video-game ownership
on young boys' academic and behavioral functioning: a randomized,
controlled study. Psychol Sci. 21(4):463-70.
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