Playing certain kinds of video games could actually boost a child’s intelligence and improve their exam results, but excessive Facebook use could have precisely the opposite effect!
According to the latest research, carried out by Dr Shawn Green (assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Dr Aaron Seitz (University of California, Riverside) kids who played video games every day scored higher in subjects including maths and science – but students who spent hours on social media sites were more likely to fall behind.
The joint study suggests that certain types of video game, particularly the sort of games that depend on players’ accurate decision-making and rapid reactions to fast moving targets can serve to boost brain function and produce positive improvements in cognitive function. Some ‘action’ games were even found to be of greater benefit than so-called ‘brain training’ programmes, rubbished by more than two-dozen academic studies.
Of course, like the ‘brain training’ devices punted by Star Trek Captain Patrick Stewart, this increase in cognitive ability may be limited to the perfection of one type of activity rather than overall intelligence. Nonetheless, ‘action’ games have been seen to also improve attention skills, neuro-processing and cognitive functionality.
Researchers in Australia, led by Alberto Posso from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, keen to add their own contribution to the debate, tested more than 12,000 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science, as well as recording data about the students’ online activities. These students were tested according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a test that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy every three years in more than 70 countries.
The researchers found that video games could help students apply and sharpen skills learned at school, although they did not disclose the titles of specific games. However, previous studies into video game behaviour described them as anything from computerised card games to realistic fantasy worlds involving millions of players.
It appears that students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science. This is a significant improvement.
Online gaming involves the player being able to solve puzzles in order to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills found in maths, reading and science that have been taught in class. Dr Posso and his team have even suggested that teachers consider incorporating popular video games into teaching, so long as they are non-violent.
Conversely, teenagers who regularly spend time on Facebook or chat online every day scored 20 points lower in maths than students who never used social media. They could be spending this time on study, but it may also indicate that they are struggling with maths, reading and science and are going online to socialise instead.
Maybe teachers could find a way of blending the use of Facebook and other types of social media into their classes as a way of helping those students engage. It’s important to recognise that other factors could have an impact on teenagers’ willingness to learn.
More concerning is that students from minority ethnic or linguistic groups were at even greater risk of falling behind than those spending their time on Facebook or in chat rooms.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.