Video Games Make You Smarter: Backed up by Research
Kabir Lal Community Manager, Healthy Gamer
Many people claim that video games make you smarter. However, intelligence is a broad concept, and we don’t know what effect video games have on it. Even then, lots of research has shown that video games can have a tangible impact on cognition. Let’s explore these in detail and answer the question, “Do video games make you smarter?”
Video games increase your attention span, improve decision making and problem-solving capabilities in competitive environments, and improve memory and learning. Video games improve the cognitive abilities that society values.
If you want to learn more about video game addiction, its signs, symptoms, causes, the effect on a gamer’s life, how to stop playing video games, how to wean your child off video games, whether games cause violence or make you smarter, then the Comprehensive Guide to Video Game Addiction might be of use to you. Click here to read the complete guide on video game addiction.
Read further to learn how video games affect our cognitive capabilities.
Effect of Video Games on Attention
- A study by Green and Bavelier found that action video games enhance attentional control. According to this study, action games involve high-speed gameplay and contain objects that quickly pop in and out of the visual field. They seem to have the broadest benefits to perceptual and attentional abilities.
- Most action games require the player to keep their attention focused on specific objects or entities. These objects or entities can be presented in isolation or amongst other irrelevant distractions. As a result, action games notably boost selective attention, i.e., a person’s ability to focus on one particular stimulus.
- Gamers who play action games can track independently moving objects faster and better than non-video-game players. They demonstrate a higher degree of spatial awareness compared to their non-gamer counterparts.
- A test often used in the screening of ADD found that gamers had faster responses than those that did not play video games. Moreover, they did not sacrifice accuracy for speed. It is also important to note that the test recognized their responses as being anticipatory. That means that gamers relied on prediction rather than reaction. As a result, the study concluded that video game players are faster but not more impulsive than non-gamers.
- A study that compared 27 expert gamers with 30 amateur ones found that action games correlated with higher gray matter volume in the brain.
How Video Games Affect Memory and Learning
Memory is closely related to attention. Therefore, since games improve attention, they would have an impact on memory as well. Let’s take a look at some research.
- A study conducted by McDermott et al. compared the memory of action video game players with non-gamers. They found that action video game players excelled over non-gamers in tasks that involved retaining many memories. They also demonstrated higher precision with visual-spatial short term memory tasks.
- A study done by Ferguson, Cruz, and Rueda found that video game playing correlated positively with accuracy in visual memory. The study hypothesized that this was because video games primed the player to be sensitive to visual cues.
- According to researchers from the University of California, playing 3D video games can boost the formation of memories and improve hand-eye coordination and reaction times.
- A study conducted by Gnambs et al. found that while playing video games can result in a tiny hit to school performance, they don’t affect a child’s intelligence.
- According to some preliminary research, strategy games can increase older adults’ brain functions, and perhaps even protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- A study by Lorenza et al. suggests that gaming trains the brain to be more flexible in updating and monitoring new information. Therefore, it enhances the memory capacity of gamers.
Video Games and Problem Solving
Most video games require a large amount of problem-solving. However, different games require different kinds of problem-solving.
- A longitudinal study conducted in 2013 found that playing strategy games correlated positively with problem-solving abilities and school grades in the following year. That means that adolescents that reported playing more strategy games tended to display better problem-solving ability.
- Scholars at Michigan State University did a study of about 500 12-year-olds. They found that the more kids played video games, the more creative they were in tasks such as drawing pictures and writing stories. However, the use of the internet, cellphones, and computers (aside from playing video games) was unrelated to creativity. Moreover, the increase in creativity was not related to whether the game was violent or non-violent.
- A University of Glasgow trial found that gaming improved communication skills, resourcefulness, and flexibility as video games increase critical thinking and reflective learning ability. These traits are central to graduates and are desirable to employers seeking to hire people out of university.
Video Games and Spatial Intelligence
Most video games, especially 3D ones, require gamers to develop excellent spatial skills to navigate complex environments. Let’s look at some studies that have looked at the relationship between video games and spatial intelligence.
- A 2007 study by Green and Bavalier found that video games significantly increased an inexperienced gamer’s ability to rotate complex shapes in their mind. It also found that subjects trained in action video games showed an increase in their ability to identify a single object, among other distracting ones.
- Another study confirmed that video game players showed a faster response time for easy and difficult visual search tasks than non-gamers.
- Avid action-video-game players were able to identify a peripheral target among many distracting objects more accurately than non-action-video-game players. The researchers showed them a sequence of objects, each of which they presented very briefly. They found that gamers were able to process this visual stream more efficiently than non-gamers. They were also able to track more objects than non-video-game-players.
- An fMRI study by Granek et al. found that extensive gaming alters the network in our brain that processes complex visual tasks. It makes the circuitry more efficient.
How Video Games Impact Decision Making
Video games, especially action games, require quick, on-the-fly decision-making capabilities. Avid gamers can make decisions under pressure. Here are some findings from relevant research.
- A study split participants aged 18 to 25 into two groups. One group played 50 hours of Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, and the other group played 50 hours of Sims 2. The action game players made decisions 25% faster in a task unrelated to playing video games without sacrificing accuracy.
- One study explored ways to improve traditional training methods that aim to reduce people’s bias and improve their decision-making capabilities. They found that interactive video games improved general decision-making abilities both in the short term and long term. Susceptibility to bias was reduced by 31% in immediate tests, and after three months, the reduction will still more than 23%
Video Games and IQ
What is IQ? How much does it matter?
IQ is short for intelligence quotient. Researchers developed it to measure how well someone can use information and reasoning to answer questions or make predictions. IQ tests measure short-term and long-term memory and how quickly one can solve puzzles and recall information. It helps researchers check whether they are testing for the same “kind” of intelligence. However, it does not encapsulate the complexity of the mind. Other factors, such as social and economic status, influence IQ. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is also a significant contributor to success.
IQ is a predictor of many things, but it does not define intelligence. It is generally a good predictor of a person’s success in life since the more intelligent a person is, the more likely they are to solve problems, learn new things, and get ahead in life. However, it can only predict how well people will do in particular situations, such as science, engineering, and art. Success in life requires more than just intelligence — it depends on persistence, ambition, opportunity, and luck.
Do Video Games Increase IQ?
Games select and filter for higher fluid IQs because games adequately, intellectually challenge us as kids when school was not enough. There are studies that children crave challenge and mastery, which games provide for them, and that creates a feedback loop.
What Does the Research Say?
A study conducted at the University of York found a correlation between young people’s skill at two popular video games (Dota 2 and League of Legends) and high intelligence levels.
The study set up two groups: the first group demonstrated their skill at League of Legends and then took a standard pen-and-paper intelligence test. They split the second group into Dota 2 players and gamers who played shooting games (Destiny and Battlefield 3).
The first group found that MOBA players tended to have higher IQs – a correlation seen in more traditional strategy games such as chess. In the second group, the researchers found that while MOBA players’ performance and IQ remained consistent as they got older, while the shooter game players’ performance declined after their teens.
While games can be good at indicators of a person’s IQ, that does not necessarily mean that they boost IQ.
Does Higher IQ Correlate with Risk of Addiction?
Smarter people are more likely to get addicted to video games because they may not be adequately challenged in school or at work, and video games fulfill this need for them. To recognize and overcome gaming addiction, you need to acknowledge who you are as a gamer. Gamers are, in fact, smarter than the average person. While we value intelligence in society, being smart is not enough to be successful.
Gamers use their high IQ to justify their lack of success, and it becomes an ego boost. Therefore, high intelligence becomes a justification for not needing to work hard and aim for success in life. That is how intelligence leads to avoidance.
Check out this video in which Dr. K talks about how intelligence leads to avoidance:
Issues with Video Game Studies
Some factors that influence video game training studies might bring the accuracy of these studies into question. A paper by Boot et al. discussed game training studies that tell the participants about the nature of the study. That can easily lead to bias, as the participants know whether they are in the experimental group or the control group.
For example, let’s assume that a study that aims to test the impact of action games on decision-making recruits gamers and non-gamers. It discloses the nature and aim of the study to the participants. It also tells them whether they will be in the experimental group or the control group.
The experimental group trains on an action game while the control group trains on a strategy game. After training, the researchers administer a test to both groups. It aims to measure the speed and accuracy of their decision-making. Since both groups know the aim of the study, the experimental group believes that they will do well on the test. Therefore, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they try their hardest. Meanwhile, the control group does not put in as much effort because they think that they are expected to match up to the experimental group. As a result, they don’t try hard and don’t perform too well.
Such an experiment does not control well for placebo. Unfortunately, many video game training studies are structured this way.
Intelligence is complicated and not understood very well. Therefore, it is hard to measure if video games make you smarter. However, we can measure aspects of our cognition and how video games affect it. It is also unclear to what degree video games boost our cognition. That is because they select for people whose attentional, memory, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities are already above average. Despite all that, it is safe to say that gamers tend to rank higher for these cognitive abilities than the rest of the population.
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