Playing fast action games on your computer and TV develops your brain and eyesight more than if you don't play at all or play calmer games. It also improves your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. This is stated by researchers who have studied how computer games affect the brain.
Do you feel depressed when you catch your kids playing computer games day after day, where the whole point seems to be to shoot or blow up as many enemies as possible? Do you sometimes wish your kids would choose calmer and less violent games that can teach them something when they're still spending so many hours in front of a screen?
Playing computer games can definitely have negative consequences for children and adults alike. But the thing is, the games that we parents often think are the most harmful and pointless may be the ones that develop the brain the most.
At least that's what Professor Daphne Bavelier, who studies cognitive function at the University of Rochester in the US, claims. According to her research, it's the fast action games that at least partially positively train your brain and can have a positive impact on your life.
- We gathered a group of people and tested their eyesight before starting the experiment. They were then divided into smaller groups that were given the task of playing different types of computer games," says Daphne Bavelier at a major scientific conference currently taking place in Chicago.
Some were allowed to play action games, others played more social games, a third group played scoring games and so on. One hour a day for a fortnight the participants had to devote to the game, after which their eyesight was tested again.
- We found that those who played action games had clearly improved vision compared to those who played other quieter games or no games at all.
This may seem contradictory. How can you change your eyesight in a positive way by staring at a computer screen for hours on end? According to Daphne Bavelier, the explanation is that the game changes the brain, not the eye.
Good for driving
Constant changes to the screen while playing means the brain is trained to perceive details faster and see contrasts more clearly, which is an important ability, for example, when driving a car.
- But this shouldn't be an excuse to play hour after hour," says Daphne Bavelier. We got these positive effects by playing just one hour a day for a fortnight. This also doesn't apply to all types of action games. According to her, games that simply react to something on the screen, rather than acting on their own, don't develop the brain as well.
Her research has also shown that the ability to concentrate can be improved by playing action games, which completely contradicts the idea that action games can cause children to develop ADHD.
According to Daphne Bavelier, the flurry of events on the screen means that the player has to concentrate fully on the game. This, in turn, develops the brain's ability to sort out unimportant information and maintain concentration.
The mat got better
Another characteristic found by researchers in action-related computer games has to do with mathematical thinking. It's about the ability to estimate numbers, such as how many dots you see on a certain surface or how many balls are in a jar.
- We have seen that people who play such computer games have a greater ability to make such numerical estimates than people who don't play. And we know that children who are good at these kinds of numerical assessments do better in maths at school after a few years than children who have not done such tasks.
But many get into trouble
Now Daphne Bavelier has launched a study to see whether it is really possible to link computer games and this specific mathematical ability. She will follow a group of six-year-olds who play action games and check how their mathematical abilities develop compared to children who do not play such games.
At the same time, she warns about the negative sides of gambling.
- We still know too little about the extent to which games are addictive in children. That many people have problems is clear, but more research is needed so that we can provide evidence of exactly how computers and video games affect the reward system in the brain and cause addiction.
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