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Give your kids a console - video games could make them smarter

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:54 IST

Parents worried that video games are turning their children into malcontent, hooker-murdering gun men can finally rest easy. A new study adds to mounting evidence that video games, at least in moderation, have the reverse effect - creating smarter, better adjusted children.

The study, published in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal, rejects earlier notions and instead makes a case for how video games increase the odds of high intellectual functioning by a factor of 1.75.

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For those worried that playing video games would lead to school performance suffering, the study has more good news - the odds of above-average school competence improved by a factor of 1.88.

The study, based on data collected from the School Children Mental Health Europe (SCMHE) project, also concluded that children who gamed frequently had fewer peer-relationship and social issues.

The data from the SCMHE project was gathered from 6 European Union countries. The subjects of the study were children aged between 6-11 years. It not only took into account the childrens' responses but surveyed parents and teachers and even sourced the academic records of the children surveyed.

Researchers from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Paris Descartes University, who studied the data, also took into account the childrens' ages, gender and family size into account.

According to the study boys gamed more than girls though usage for both genders increased with age. The study found that the positive effects were found in the 20% of children who gamed heavily (over 5 hours a week).

Enough with the vilification, a new study suggests video games could make your children smarter

While video games have long been associated with aggression, introversion and mental health issues, the survey threw up some contrarian results. Parents and teachers surveyed reported absolutely no correlation between heavy video game usage and mental health issues.

But before you relax the restrictions on your kids' video game usage, the researchers, while extolling the virtues of gaming, were keen to underscore the value of moderation. As Katherine Keyes, assistant professor of Epidemiology at Mailman, stated, "We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success."

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Children, after all, are children, and as such, need adult guidance. It must be noted that there is a difference between heavy video game usage and outright gaming addiction.

While the former is what the study purports to encourage, the latter can harm a child significantly, causing children to skip meals, lose sleep and result in less time spent socialising with peers. Pretty much the opposite of what the Mailman study suggests.

Besides, the Mailman study is based on an age-group that is typically expected to experience high degrees of parental monitoring. A slightly more representative picture is painted by a slightly less recent Oxford University study on children aged 11 to 16.

The study, which was carried out on a larger group of 5000 children, found that video games were beneficial only to children who played video games in moderation.

The study concluded that, "young people who indulged in a little video game-playing were associated with being better adjusted than those who had never played or those who were on video games for three hours or more."

Children who played between one and three hours, a period still considerate moderate, experienced no improvement either positive or negative.

The study even showed a direct correlation between excessive usage and harmful effects.

Still, even with these riders, the positive effects found by the study were numerous. Children who gamed for an hour or less per day were happier, less hyper active and more social.

Even with all this, it would still be remiss to associate just video games with these benefits. Numerous other factors contribute to a child's social and intellectual growth. After all, one would associate moderate game with responsible parenting and responsible parenting could have a far greater effect on a child's development than almost anything else.

So if you want your child to get smarter, sure, buy them a console, but don't think they'll get any smarter or more social if you shirk your duties as a parent.

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First published: 11 March 2016, 8:08 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.