Study: Video Games May Hinder Learning

As the mom of a six-year-old who occasionally plays with the Wii, especially during those cold, rainy winter months, this LiveScience article on video games caught my eye.

Basically, a study has found that video games may hinder learning in young boys. Read on:

The results show that boys given a PlayStation II are slower to progress in their reading and writing skills and have more learning problems reported by their teachers than those not given a system.

The study is the first controlled trial to look at the effects of playing video games on learning in young boys. That is to say, the findings aren’t based on survey data of kids’ game habits, but instead on a specific group of children that were randomly assigned to receive a PlayStation or not, and followed up for a certain period of time.

But as I was reading the article, I thought “duh!” What kid wants to do homework as opposed to playing video games? The article addressed that, too.

Weis’ new study involved 64 boys aged 6 to 9 who didn’t currently own a video game system, but whose parents were thinking of buying one. The boys did not have previous learning or behavioral problems. The parents were told this was a study looking at child development, and they would get a video game system for participating. The scientists chose not to include girls, because they wanted to look at the effects of playing video games, and they were worried that girls might not play as much as boys would, according to Weis.

Half of the children were randomly chosen to receive the PlayStation right away, and half got it at the end of the four-month study period.

Not surprisingly, the children with the game system immediately spent more time playing video games than those in the control group, though the latter group did spend a little time playing video games, presumably at friends’ houses….

Playing video games might displace not only traditional academic activities, such as homework and reading, but ones that, while not strictly academic, could help them in school, such as discussing what they learned that day with their parents, or having parents read to them.

Luckily, the sun has started peaking out again in Berkeley after months of torrential downpour. I have been sending the kids outside to play. And guess what? Ari just hit a new milestone. He has been helping me with his little sister while I finish up a writing contract. He makes her snacks, pushes her on the swing and even helps her go to the potty. I am proud of my boy.

75 thoughts on “Study: Video Games May Hinder Learning

  1. I am starting to think

    from my own one-rat experiment as well as other kids around, that some of this effect may be that the natural hunger for storytelling gets sated with TV and video games, and that that may make kids less interested in putting out the effort to read fiction.

    One of the things that has me thinking this is that it seems to me that kids of this generation have a stronger preference for nonfiction than I remember my cohort having. This could be a memory bias, of course. But I sense in my own daughter less of a need to read fiction books that are about people like her than I had, and I wonder if that’s because there are so many interesting, niche TV series available to her.

    • I don’t know

      I think some kids prefer that type of interactive storytelling, but others don’t.  I think about people I know with definite preferences for reading vs. tv. vs. videogames vs. movies vs. tabletop roleplaying…and anyway different kinds of video games have either more story or more strategy or more puzzles or whatever.

    • interesting

      I’ve noticed that in myself since reality shows started. I am much more impatient with fiction on even TV (and books) than I used to be, but will watch almost any reality crud.

      • Really? Huh

        I don’t watch much tv, but I’ve always loved science shows and some cooking shows and travel shows and debates and stuff.  We bought the Planet Earth series on Blu-ray.  

        I guess when I sit down to watch tv I like reality and comedy because those don’t seem as badly interrupted by commercials.  But I watch lots of tv shows on DVD after they come out.  Now I’m waiting for Caprica.

        • Yeah

          I can hardly read fiction anymore either. I force myself. I also don’t like many movies anymore. I blame the reality TV shows and the tabloids my mother keeps bringing over here! (even though I keep telling her to stop).

          • Huh

            I don’t read anything that’s not a magazine or a blog unless I’m in the bathroom, but that’s an issue of not having free time.

            • NJ mom sounds like maybe you should gocold turkey

              on the reality shows.  As far as free time, I am always lamenting that I used to read a book a week before I had kids. Now all my reading is done on the computer.  Last week I was at my daughter’s school and her teacher handed out a reading-habits worksheet.  It said, “Let your kids see you reading.”  I took that to heart and told the girls, “I’m reading my own book now. Read on your own or go play.” Ah, the wonderful feeling of reading a 400 page book in three days!

    • hunger for storytelling

      I think this is very interesting.

      I was horrified the first time my 3 year old wanted to go on the computer rather than going outside to play with the other kids.  

      • Imagine my horror

        when my daughter asked for a game for her tiny DS where you get a dog. You can pet the dog, virtually.

        “But, you have a REAL dog!” I said. “She’s sitting right here and she’d like to be petted.”

        “It’s not the same, mommy.”

    • TV and storytelling

      I just taught on TV and Media recently and came across some information that indicated that TV was replacing storytelling by elders in our culture.  Based on that much, I think your one-rat idea about reading fiction may not be that far off from reality.

      My 1st grader does read lots of non-fiction – right now they are working on a chapter book about finding the first t-rex.  My 6th grader is all about fiction, the more dramatic the better!

    • There are many things in this would that can create an interest and imagination in a person, books being the biggest thing. However, in this day and age, videogames and movies are now right on the heels of the stories invented by the authors of books. Now there is a new industry where people use their creative talents to display the stories that invent directly in front of another person, and better yet, with 3D television and person-controlled videogames, people are able to interact with the imaginations of the creator. Because of these things, the newer generations of people are finding that, although books can be fun, videogames & movies are now twice the fun, thus making those people lean more toward the virtual side rather than books.

      I can understand that books are important; they allow a person to visualize with their own mind what they think is going on with the story, but I think people are still ignoring the fact that there aren’t only shoot-them-up games, but quality made art.

  2. I am starting to think

    from my own one-rat experiment as well as other kids around, that some of this effect may be that the natural hunger for storytelling gets sated with TV and video games, and that that may make kids less interested in putting out the effort to read fiction.

    One of the things that has me thinking this is that it seems to me that kids of this generation have a stronger preference for nonfiction than I remember my cohort having. This could be a memory bias, of course. But I sense in my own daughter less of a need to read fiction books that are about people like her than I had, and I wonder if that’s because there are so many interesting, niche TV series available to her.

    • I don’t know

      I think some kids prefer that type of interactive storytelling, but others don’t.  I think about people I know with definite preferences for reading vs. tv. vs. videogames vs. movies vs. tabletop roleplaying…and anyway different kinds of video games have either more story or more strategy or more puzzles or whatever.

    • interesting

      I’ve noticed that in myself since reality shows started. I am much more impatient with fiction on even TV (and books) than I used to be, but will watch almost any reality crud.

      • Really? Huh

        I don’t watch much tv, but I’ve always loved science shows and some cooking shows and travel shows and debates and stuff.  We bought the Planet Earth series on Blu-ray.  

        I guess when I sit down to watch tv I like reality and comedy because those don’t seem as badly interrupted by commercials.  But I watch lots of tv shows on DVD after they come out.  Now I’m waiting for Caprica.

        • Yeah

          I can hardly read fiction anymore either. I force myself. I also don’t like many movies anymore. I blame the reality TV shows and the tabloids my mother keeps bringing over here! (even though I keep telling her to stop).

          • Huh

            I don’t read anything that’s not a magazine or a blog unless I’m in the bathroom, but that’s an issue of not having free time.

            • NJ mom sounds like maybe you should gocold turkey

              on the reality shows.  As far as free time, I am always lamenting that I used to read a book a week before I had kids. Now all my reading is done on the computer.  Last week I was at my daughter’s school and her teacher handed out a reading-habits worksheet.  It said, “Let your kids see you reading.”  I took that to heart and told the girls, “I’m reading my own book now. Read on your own or go play.” Ah, the wonderful feeling of reading a 400 page book in three days!

    • hunger for storytelling

      I think this is very interesting.

      I was horrified the first time my 3 year old wanted to go on the computer rather than going outside to play with the other kids.  

      • Imagine my horror

        when my daughter asked for a game for her tiny DS where you get a dog. You can pet the dog, virtually.

        “But, you have a REAL dog!” I said. “She’s sitting right here and she’d like to be petted.”

        “It’s not the same, mommy.”

    • TV and storytelling

      I just taught on TV and Media recently and came across some information that indicated that TV was replacing storytelling by elders in our culture.  Based on that much, I think your one-rat idea about reading fiction may not be that far off from reality.

      My 1st grader does read lots of non-fiction – right now they are working on a chapter book about finding the first t-rex.  My 6th grader is all about fiction, the more dramatic the better!

  3. I don’t get why they couldn’t use girls too

    Tons of girls play games.  I guess they are more into computer games than console games?  And then what about households with boys and girls?

      • How do they know that?

        Was there a study regarding gender differences in lengths of play at consoles?  Just curious.  I would really like to see the same study done with girls now.  The games are in their homes too.

    • isolate variables, reduce dispersion

      They weren’t studying gender, they were studying video games.  It works best with a narrowly defined study population because the lower your varience (or standard deviation) is, the easier it is to reach statistical significance.  To oversimplify (don’t make me talk about P values):  if A = 50 and B = 55 and your standard deviation for each is plus or minus 2, you can claim that A is different from B.  But if your standard deviation is 3 you cannot claim any result at all, despite getting the same effect.

      The question was whether video games affected any kids in a way that could be measured – it didn’t matter so much who.  Studying girls and boys together would have increased the variance.  So they picked one.  It didn’t matter which, but boys had a higher mean so they are slightly easier to work with, quantitatively.  Statisticians like narrow bell curves with tall, sharp peaks; broad, inclusive bell curves are mushy and hide a lot of data.

      • Yeah, I am getting the

        “simplify your sample for the first run study” thing, and of course we all like sharp peaks.  (Hydrologists tend to just pretend they are there.)  But I do want to know what studies prove that’s true for this age of girl, and want more studies on girls and gaming.

  4. I don’t get why they couldn’t use girls too

    Tons of girls play games.  I guess they are more into computer games than console games?  And then what about households with boys and girls?

      • How do they know that?

        Was there a study regarding gender differences in lengths of play at consoles?  Just curious.  I would really like to see the same study done with girls now.  The games are in their homes too.

    • isolate variables, reduce dispersion

      They weren’t studying gender, they were studying video games.  It works best with a narrowly defined study population because the lower your varience (or standard deviation) is, the easier it is to reach statistical significance.  To oversimplify (don’t make me talk about P values):  if A = 50 and B = 55 and your standard deviation for each is plus or minus 2, you can claim that A is different from B.  But if your standard deviation is 3 you cannot claim any result at all, despite getting the same effect.

      The question was whether video games affected any kids in a way that could be measured – it didn’t matter so much who.  Studying girls and boys together would have increased the variance.  So they picked one.  It didn’t matter which, but boys had a higher mean so they are slightly easier to work with, quantitatively.  Statisticians like narrow bell curves with tall, sharp peaks; broad, inclusive bell curves are mushy and hide a lot of data.

      • Yeah, I am getting the

        “simplify your sample for the first run study” thing, and of course we all like sharp peaks.  (Hydrologists tend to just pretend they are there.)  But I do want to know what studies prove that’s true for this age of girl, and want more studies on girls and gaming.

  5. Video game balance

    We just bought a Wii, and struggle to limit our six-year-old’s playing time. I think part of it, though, is how one structures the time. Does the child play by himself, or is it a family activity? The Wii in particular makes for good multi-player games–and while that doesn’t and shouldn’t displace real family conversation, it seems better than letting the child play solo in his or her room for long periods.

    Of course, I do wish my son’s first reaction with his free time was “Let’s read a book” rather than “Let’s play Mario.” My spouse and I just have to be firm in setting limits.

    • We have a Wii

      but the kids are too young to play.  Kid Sparky really loves to watch movies, but he also has a few books read to him before bed.  And a lot of the time he spends with DH is sitting with him while he plays computer games.  I don’t know how any of that will affect anything, but I don’t think we should significantly limit the kids’ exposure to the parents’ preferred leisure activities.  (Although we do limit the content.)

      • that’s been an interesting thing

        Our kids sit together a lot with computer stuff even if it’s a one-person game–one just serves as the primary player, and they’ll take turns.  They did this with Webkinz a lot when they were younger, or with I Spy and some other puzzle-type games.  

        Now they do it a lot with DH and World of Warcraft, even though both DSS and older DSD play that on their own also (although DSD really prefers to have DH there to talk to during, partially because he’ll help her through harder spots and partially because she’s just so darn social that she’d really rather have human company!).  DH has said that some of his better interaction with DSS, especially, have been computer-aided, so I don’t really see a down side.

        DSD-9 made a WOW character and played a little bit, just to fit in with the others, but she didn’t seem as into it, and DH told her specifically that she didn’t have to like it just because the others did, and she seemed rather relieved to go back to Webkinz.  (And the fact that I’m not a WOW player and still play the Webkinz word games fairly regularly helped her come to terms with that.)

    • We don’t have a Wii

      but I also like that it’s more physical.

      Still, my daughter was watching snowboarding in the Olympics and saying, “Mom, that’s just like on a Wii! Can we have a Wii?”

      Ah, I’m old and out of touch.

    • Us, too

      We really went back and forth before we got the Wii about the role we wanted it to have.  So it’s a family activity for us, that we do mainly on the weekends.  My kids would definitely play 24-7 if we let them so we have the firm limits at our house.  

  6. Video game balance

    We just bought a Wii, and struggle to limit our six-year-old’s playing time. I think part of it, though, is how one structures the time. Does the child play by himself, or is it a family activity? The Wii in particular makes for good multi-player games–and while that doesn’t and shouldn’t displace real family conversation, it seems better than letting the child play solo in his or her room for long periods.

    Of course, I do wish my son’s first reaction with his free time was “Let’s read a book” rather than “Let’s play Mario.” My spouse and I just have to be firm in setting limits.

    • We have a Wii

      but the kids are too young to play.  Kid Sparky really loves to watch movies, but he also has a few books read to him before bed.  And a lot of the time he spends with DH is sitting with him while he plays computer games.  I don’t know how any of that will affect anything, but I don’t think we should significantly limit the kids’ exposure to the parents’ preferred leisure activities.  (Although we do limit the content.)

      • that’s been an interesting thing

        Our kids sit together a lot with computer stuff even if it’s a one-person game–one just serves as the primary player, and they’ll take turns.  They did this with Webkinz a lot when they were younger, or with I Spy and some other puzzle-type games.  

        Now they do it a lot with DH and World of Warcraft, even though both DSS and older DSD play that on their own also (although DSD really prefers to have DH there to talk to during, partially because he’ll help her through harder spots and partially because she’s just so darn social that she’d really rather have human company!).  DH has said that some of his better interaction with DSS, especially, have been computer-aided, so I don’t really see a down side.

        DSD-9 made a WOW character and played a little bit, just to fit in with the others, but she didn’t seem as into it, and DH told her specifically that she didn’t have to like it just because the others did, and she seemed rather relieved to go back to Webkinz.  (And the fact that I’m not a WOW player and still play the Webkinz word games fairly regularly helped her come to terms with that.)

    • We don’t have a Wii

      but I also like that it’s more physical.

      Still, my daughter was watching snowboarding in the Olympics and saying, “Mom, that’s just like on a Wii! Can we have a Wii?”

      Ah, I’m old and out of touch.

    • Us, too

      We really went back and forth before we got the Wii about the role we wanted it to have.  So it’s a family activity for us, that we do mainly on the weekends.  My kids would definitely play 24-7 if we let them so we have the firm limits at our house.  

  7. We have pretty strict rules

    but we also have a Wii, a PS2, a PS3 and a Nintendo.  Harry knows that he can’t play on school days (he & Molly share 30 minutes of screen time- usually Fetch With Ruff Ruffman) after homework and before bed.  On the weekends he can have 90 minutes a day and he’s pretty good about managing it without a lot of nagging from us- though we have him set a time to keep track.  We’re also really particular about what games he plays.

    That being said, this book takes an interesting spin on the whole thing. proposing (in a really not well researched way) that kids are being better prepared by video games than by school for life in the 21st century.  I don’t know if I believe that, but I also sort of see it the same as candy and soda- a little here and there won’t hurt you.  Moderation in all things, you know?

    • Including moderation :)

      I love the idea of setting rules that I can break from time to time…everything in moderation, including moderation.  Because we reserve Wii for weekends, when there is an occasion to play during the week (I’m thinking snow day or something) it’s that much more fun because it’s unexpected.

  8. We have pretty strict rules

    but we also have a Wii, a PS2, a PS3 and a Nintendo.  Harry knows that he can’t play on school days (he & Molly share 30 minutes of screen time- usually Fetch With Ruff Ruffman) after homework and before bed.  On the weekends he can have 90 minutes a day and he’s pretty good about managing it without a lot of nagging from us- though we have him set a time to keep track.  We’re also really particular about what games he plays.

    That being said, this book takes an interesting spin on the whole thing. proposing (in a really not well researched way) that kids are being better prepared by video games than by school for life in the 21st century.  I don’t know if I believe that, but I also sort of see it the same as candy and soda- a little here and there won’t hurt you.  Moderation in all things, you know?

    • Including moderation :)

      I love the idea of setting rules that I can break from time to time…everything in moderation, including moderation.  Because we reserve Wii for weekends, when there is an occasion to play during the week (I’m thinking snow day or something) it’s that much more fun because it’s unexpected.

  9. funny

    DH and I recently had a conversation about how surprised we are that we have come around on the whole video game thing.  As long as they are being used socially we don’t see any more reason to object to them than we would to a board game.  We’ll probably be getting a Wii sometime soon.

    We already have a nintendo DS for each boy, purchased for medical reasons.  The main thing these have displaced are periods of exceptional boredom:  medical tests and procedures, family outings to home improvement stores, and for DS2 the insufferable burden of being dragged to his brother’s games and practices.  Not restaurants (sorry, bub); they are still required to learn to act like civilized beings.  And they don’t get to use them much at home, and never without permission.  Since all of their friends also have video game restrictions it’s not hard to set and enforce limits; they expect them.

    • DVD players

      I was all against DVD players in the car until I got them. Now, it’s my favorite thing. Where better to watch TV than when you are stuck in a car for a road trip?

      • I have always favored them

        not that we have one; DS has his own handheld one.  This is probably because we took car trips for 6 weeks every summer when I was a kid.  My brother and I both had problems with carsickness when we read.  My mom read aloud to us, but she had to sleep or drive sometimes, and we eventually would run out of books.  And books on tape.  And have listened to every tape we had like 7000 times.  The United States is really, really big.

      • we don’t do that

        I consider car time to be the most valuable parenting time of all, so I’m reluctant to give up a single minute.  That’s where I find out what really goes on, and what’s really on their minds.  And that time is only going to become more precious as my boys become older and more independent.  If they’re bored, they’ll just have to talk to me.  :-)

          • actually

            We did use one for a trip to Santa Cruz a few years ago – that was a little over 3 hrs.  But we haven’t used it since.  Do DVD players cause carsickness?  Our last couple of trips of over 2 hrs have involved mountain roads, and DS2 got carsick both times even without the DVD.

        • i found the same…

          and to this day my 19 year old still spills more in the car :)  i can see for long trips how dvd woud be very good, particularly when my dd was little.  but as she got older we played games in the car.  favorite was the intitial game…in fact  all of us still play it on long trips.

  10. funny

    DH and I recently had a conversation about how surprised we are that we have come around on the whole video game thing.  As long as they are being used socially we don’t see any more reason to object to them than we would to a board game.  We’ll probably be getting a Wii sometime soon.

    We already have a nintendo DS for each boy, purchased for medical reasons.  The main thing these have displaced are periods of exceptional boredom:  medical tests and procedures, family outings to home improvement stores, and for DS2 the insufferable burden of being dragged to his brother’s games and practices.  Not restaurants (sorry, bub); they are still required to learn to act like civilized beings.  And they don’t get to use them much at home, and never without permission.  Since all of their friends also have video game restrictions it’s not hard to set and enforce limits; they expect them.

    • DVD players

      I was all against DVD players in the car until I got them. Now, it’s my favorite thing. Where better to watch TV than when you are stuck in a car for a road trip?

      • I have always favored them

        not that we have one; DS has his own handheld one.  This is probably because we took car trips for 6 weeks every summer when I was a kid.  My brother and I both had problems with carsickness when we read.  My mom read aloud to us, but she had to sleep or drive sometimes, and we eventually would run out of books.  And books on tape.  And have listened to every tape we had like 7000 times.  The United States is really, really big.

      • we don’t do that

        I consider car time to be the most valuable parenting time of all, so I’m reluctant to give up a single minute.  That’s where I find out what really goes on, and what’s really on their minds.  And that time is only going to become more precious as my boys become older and more independent.  If they’re bored, they’ll just have to talk to me.  :-)

          • actually

            We did use one for a trip to Santa Cruz a few years ago – that was a little over 3 hrs.  But we haven’t used it since.  Do DVD players cause carsickness?  Our last couple of trips of over 2 hrs have involved mountain roads, and DS2 got carsick both times even without the DVD.

        • i found the same…

          and to this day my 19 year old still spills more in the car :)  i can see for long trips how dvd woud be very good, particularly when my dd was little.  but as she got older we played games in the car.  favorite was the intitial game…in fact  all of us still play it on long trips.

  11. what to do

    Our DS’ optometrist urged we not get a DS for our son – unsolicited.  Strongly believes it hinders learning, visual acuity of macro surroundings, etc.  DS occasionally plays with au pair’s DS and does have a Leapster.  DS and sib, however, only allowed to use Leapsters or watch DVDs on car trips of more than 2 hours or plane rides, etc.  Do not have a Wii.  Most of this is due to DH and I are just not that into these gadgets after long days at work, weekends with kids, etc.  I do agree that moderation is helpful, so we strive to encourage interests, rather than censor them.  DS and DD still love their nightly story hour and I want to keep the focus on that through these early years of mastering reading, etc.

    Interesting post.

  12. what to do

    Our DS’ optometrist urged we not get a DS for our son – unsolicited.  Strongly believes it hinders learning, visual acuity of macro surroundings, etc.  DS occasionally plays with au pair’s DS and does have a Leapster.  DS and sib, however, only allowed to use Leapsters or watch DVDs on car trips of more than 2 hours or plane rides, etc.  Do not have a Wii.  Most of this is due to DH and I are just not that into these gadgets after long days at work, weekends with kids, etc.  I do agree that moderation is helpful, so we strive to encourage interests, rather than censor them.  DS and DD still love their nightly story hour and I want to keep the focus on that through these early years of mastering reading, etc.

    Interesting post.

  13. OK I’m an admitted gamer

    But did anyone study what kind of games these kids were playing?  I mean was it educational games that were designed to interact with kids’ memories, fine motor skills and learning core?  There are games out there like that, even fun and popular games.  Maya plays a game designed around the Princess and the Frog and she has to do things like remember how many layers of a cake there were in order to win a certain game or remember what color and shape Charlotte’s dress was.  

    I have to imagine games like these and making wise choices with what games your kids play have a lot to do with teaching kids problem solving and memory improvement.  It’s the same with television.  I love Spongebob, but I realize that when Maya watches that, it’s pure entertainment, whereas Little Einsteins or Super Why will teach her things.  

    Not all entertainment is braindead fodder that will ruin our kids lives.  There is some good to be found in every medium.  It’s up to the parents to make the wise choices for the children and yes, you can occasionally indulge them in a Spongebob cartoon instead of Super Why, especially when 95 percent of the time, you’re making smart choices for them.

  14. OK I’m an admitted gamer

    But did anyone study what kind of games these kids were playing?  I mean was it educational games that were designed to interact with kids’ memories, fine motor skills and learning core?  There are games out there like that, even fun and popular games.  Maya plays a game designed around the Princess and the Frog and she has to do things like remember how many layers of a cake there were in order to win a certain game or remember what color and shape Charlotte’s dress was.  

    I have to imagine games like these and making wise choices with what games your kids play have a lot to do with teaching kids problem solving and memory improvement.  It’s the same with television.  I love Spongebob, but I realize that when Maya watches that, it’s pure entertainment, whereas Little Einsteins or Super Why will teach her things.  

    Not all entertainment is braindead fodder that will ruin our kids lives.  There is some good to be found in every medium.  It’s up to the parents to make the wise choices for the children and yes, you can occasionally indulge them in a Spongebob cartoon instead of Super Why, especially when 95 percent of the time, you’re making smart choices for them.

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