Video games are a popular form of entertainment. But can video games have a negative impact on your focus? Many studies show that both duration of exposure and level of violence of video games appear to be associated with concentration difficulties. However, whilst much attention has been given to the affects of long duration of game playing to violent video games (1), little is known on the impact that short exposure to less violent video games can have. Jacob Brawer, a Clinical Neuroscience Research Intern at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has just published a study in the Journal of Young Investigators (JYI) providing the first evidence that even short-term video gaming can significantly impact both the concentration and attention of players (2).
“SETTINGS” OF THE STUDY
Brawer selected 14 boys for the study, ranging from 15 to 17 years old, all with moderate-use video game playing histories (7-16 hours/week) and divided them into a control and experimental group. The control group played ‘Fact or Crap’, a trivia card game, where players decide whether a statement is true or false, whilst the experimental group played Super Smash Bros for Wii U, a mildly violent video game suitable for children aged 10 or above. After playing for 45 minutes, the subjects underwent a neuropsychological test that provides a quantitative assessment of their concentration. Alternative versions of the test were taken by the subjects before and after playing to assess any impact the games may be having.
Whilst no significant change in test scores were observed for the control group, all subjects in the experimental group performed worse in the post-game test compared to the pre-game test. This data supports a link between attention and concentration ability with brief playing of mildly violent video games.
“GAME OVER” FOR VIDEO GAMES?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that teens and children should spend no more than two hours of screen activities a day (3). Brawer’s study shows that even just 45 minutes exposure to a mildly violent video game can be harmful to concentration, suggesting that the recommendation needs re-evaluating. However, although the results by Brawer are significant, the sample size was only small (7 experimental, 7 control) and featured only male participants. Further validation with additional subjects will be required to authenticate Brawer’s results. In addition, since the boys selected for the study were all academic high achievers, it would be interesting to test how these concentration defects caused by video gaming influences academic performance. However, since mildly violent video games are played by children younger than 10, the results of the study should raise caution over when and for how long video games are played by adolescents. Despite the limitations of the study, if you want to remain focused before work, it seems a quick game of ‘Fact or Crap’ – instead of a video game – may be your best option.
Council in Communication and Media. (2009). Policy Statement—Media Violence. Pediatrics,124(5), 1495-1503. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2146