Should we be concerned or should we just keep pressing those sweet, sweet buttons?
When I was a kid, I remember my parents would limit the amount of time I could spend playing video games. The details are mostly lost in a blur of elementary and middle school angst, but I remember something like one hour a day being the limit on weekdays, with a little bit more on the weekends.
A lot of my friends had similar experiences when they were kids too, but then it seems that at some point in the past 15 years or so, computers and video games and mobile devices have become so ubiquitous that limiting the amount of time kids spend on them is far more difficult than ever before.
Is all that time kids spend playing video games on so many different platforms having an effect on their brain development? That’s the question a team of researchers at Tohoku University set out to answer.
To conduct their research, the group monitored 240 children (114 boys and 126 girls) aged five to 18 over a period of three years, recording how much time they spent playing video games, and studying their brain development via MRI scans.
▼ “I have to lie there for a whole 30 minutes?? Can I take my iPad in with me?”
“…I think we’ve found a problem.”
After the end of three years, the researchers observed that the children who played video games for an extended period on a daily basis had slower development in their language function, along with a negative impact on their prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functions), the caudate nucleus (responsible for movement), and the hippocampus (responsible for memory).
The researchers also reported that while video games did have a positive influence on the children’s spatial perception, the dopamine their brains produced while playing the games acted like a drug and made the children addicted to playing, potentially negating the positive effects.
So what does this mean? Should limits be placed on how long kids whose brains are still developing can play games for? Here’s what Japanese netizens had to say:
“I never knew that what Nintendo was doing was evil.”
“I guess that explains all the braindead comments on the internet.”
“Is it any worse than watching TV, though?”
“I dunno, reading the text on Yokai Watch out loud helped my kid learn to read.”
“The games aren’t the problem, it’s playing them too much that is.”
I have to say I agree with that last comment. Pretty much anything can be bad for you if you do it too much: too much exercise can injure you, too much water can drown you, and too much video gaming can probably affect your brain negatively as well.
Of course, once Pokémon Go is released, this is will all become a moot point since we’ll all be out and about getting fresh air and human interaction while catching and battling Pokémon in our sweet augmented-reality. Now that would’ve actually gotten me excited to play outside when I was a kid.