Video Games & ADHD

What’s the link?

According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), video games (introduced in 1972) are ubiquitous. They are played on home consoles like Xbox, Play Station, Nintendo, etc. used with TV sets. They are played on computers and on computers with access to the Internet. But one doesn’t need a large computer; you can play video games on handheld game systems and even your cell phone. And, of course for us older folks, they can still be found in coin-operated arcade machines. Not surprisingly, computer and video game sales in the United States are a $19 billion industry.

The KFF also reports that more than two-thirds of all children ages 2-18 live in a home with a video game system. Video game playing, even more than television watching, is an activity that kids tend to do alone.

The KFF also notes that, “Ethnicity and income level are indicators of video game playing, particularly among older kids ages 8-18: African American and Hispanic youth play more video games than White youth, and kids from low and middle income communities spend more time playing video games than kids from high income areas.”

What does this all amount to? The average young person accumulates 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. How does that compare to school attendance? It’s just 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. It’s the equivalent of a full time job at more than 40 hours a week.

A new study says that playing video games can create a vicious cycle for ADHD children.

Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University and lead author of the study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture cites that not enough time has been spent studying the impact environment can have on children with issues like impulse control and attention deficit disorder. This would include socioeconomic impact and parenting styles.

In the past, most research has focused on biological and genetic factors.

Gentile thinks that ADHD should be examined by looking at both nature and nurture, both the heredity of these problems and what impact parenting and environment has on them.

In an interview with Vox Games, Gentile states, “We’ve focused on biology and genetics almost exclusively in the past; it has led to some breakthroughs in medications. But this has left parents feeling powerless when their child’s school calls and tells them there may be a problem. Parents have been left feeling like the only option is to medicate their children, which many are understandably hesitant to do. Once we understand some of the environmental aspects that can increase or decrease attention problems, this can give parents a first step to try before they move onto medications.”

Gentile’s team tracked the behavior and gaming habits of more than 3,000 Singaporean school children, aged 8 to 17, over three years. The children were administered various self-reporting tests to diagnose ADHD and impulse-control issues. The reports also required the children to track how often they played video games and the video games’ degrees of violence. The study, Gentile said, was part of a much larger study on the positive and negative effects of video games.

As has been found in past research (Christakis 2004; Landhuis 2007, etc.) the researchers found that video games both help and hurt with attention issues.

Video game play seems to increase visual attention which is the ability to rapidly process information from your surroundings. For example, if you’re playing an aerial combat game, it’s necessary to quickly process and assess the number of opposing combatants so that you don’t get shot down. While this skill is necessary for this task, it is of little value in the ordinary classroom.

The negative impact is far greater than the benefits. Gentile thinks it can make it harder for some children to complete goal-oriented tasks that require long-term concentration. According to his research, the excitement and excessive stimulation of playing a video game far exceeds any ordinary daily stimulation making the real world less interesting.

Gentile also notes that time spent playing video games may also detract from the time a child might spend developing their impulse control. “Electronic media use can impair attention necessary for concentration even as it enhances the ability to notice and process visual information.”

Specifically, Gentile’s research, echoing prior research, found that children who spent more time playing video games were more impulsive and had more attention problems. Even more importantly, he discovered that children who have those issues also tended to play more video games producing a vicious cycle.

Gentile says, “Certainly games (and other media) have many potential benefits and potential harms,” he said. “The reason I study the media and children is to try to learn how to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential harms.”

He also said that he limits the amount of time he lets his child play video games. That’s wise. One has to understand what the video game is teaching and that the video game IS teaching whether you like it or not. Is it teaching us to be more impulsive? Is it teaching us to require instant gratification? Is it teaching us to have shorter attention spans? The answer to all of the questions for the average player is: YES!

Play Attention was developed to counter this vicious cycle by teaching the correct skill sets that provide a lasting benefit to maximize personal potential and optimize one’s life.

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