We are often asked the question of how online entertainment, prolonged YouTube viewing, and computer games affect a child’s brain. Here we’ll bring some benefits of playing video games as well as discuss the properties of each game kind!
The topic is very relevant and complex, so I tried to give a detailed answer. What do you need to know about your child’s brain and computer games?
Are There Any Benefits of Playing Video Games?
Video games were first introduced to the consumer market in 1972. Today, the industry of computer and video games in the United States alone exceeds $19 billion a year.
A modern child under the age of 21, on average, accumulates 10,000 hours of play during their life.
This is about the same amount of time children spend in middle and high school, assuming ideal attendance. This is equivalent to working full-time more than 40 hours a week.
According to the concept of neuroplasticity, which was confirmed by neurophysiologists in the middle of the 20th century, the brain is formed under the influence of any experience and often repeated activities.
According to Daniel Siegel, professor of psychiatry at the Univesity of California School of Medicine, a world-renowned specialist in child, adolescent, and adult neuropsychiatry (author of the bestselling Parenting Smart: 12 Revolutionary Strategies for Your Child’s Brain Development), everything that happens to a child affects how their brain develops.
Science About Benefits of Playing Video Games
There is a vast body of scientific evidence on neuroplasticity to support the view that parents can directly shape their child’s brains as they grow and develop, offering appropriate experiences. For instance, the time spent in front of the screen – computer games, television, and social networks – will force the brain to “mount” in a certain way.
Developmental activities, sports, and music will provide a different mounting scheme. Time spent with family, with friends, and learning about human relationships through personal (rather than virtual) communication will also shape the brain in a special way.
Everything that happens to us affects our brain. This process of “mounting and rewiring” is the essence of the “harmonious development” of the child:
It is necessary to provide children with the experience that will allow them to create connections between different parts of the brain.
When these divisions work in concert, they create and strengthen the connective fiber that connects the various parts of the brain. As a result, stronger bonds develop between them, and they can work together even more harmoniously.
The essence of “education with the mind” is to help the child’s brain to develop harmoniously in accordance with their age-related needs and become more integrated so that children can use their mental and psychological resources to their full potential.
I propose to look at the impact of the benefits of playing video games through the prism of neuroplasticity, that is, those skills, abilities, and qualities that we can develop in a child with the help of technology.
Benefits of Playing Video Games Depending on Their Types
There are 7 types of computer games:
#1 – Shooting Games
The goal of the game is to kill or maim as many living beings as possible. The speed of reaction is trained, but the value of life is leveled at the semantic level. Examples of the impact of this kind of a play on the psyche of a child are the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
#2 – Strategy Games
Of the positive effects – such games affect the areas of the brain associated with logical thinking and event planning. Of the negative ones, they are often built on the principles of war, capture, and slavery.
#3 – Sports Games, Racing
In principle, they are useless since the skills developed during these games are in no way applicable in reality. It may seem that these video games can improve the skill of quickly processing information that comes from the environment.
For example, if you are playing an airplane battle game, then you need to quickly estimate the number of opponents so that you are not killed. This skill may be valuable for a particular video game, but it is completely useless in academic activities and at work (research Christakis 2004; Landhuis 2007).
When it comes to coordination and motor skills, which are important for pilots and professional racers, it is important to remember that only high-quality simulators can provide good motor skills. Conventional sports computer games in combination with a monitor and a mouse can only teach a child to quickly press buttons and introduce them to the general rules of the game.
#4 – Benefits of Playing Fun Games
This, for example, is the well-known cat that copies the voice, or Angry Birds. Simple time killers who do not develop any skills at all but form a child’s dependence on a gadget by regularly injecting the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain. More on this below.
#5 – Adventure Games
This is a virtual reality that takes the child far from their own life and development. The child will spend a huge amount of time completing the game and gain dubious skills and knowledge.
These games occupy the child’s brain and do not bring any rewarding experience for real life.
I would also like to add a few words about the super-popular adventure game Mine Craft, Mine Craft Creative, etc.
Our subscriber shared with us: “When my 9-year-old son happily informed me a year ago that they were playing Mine Craft in reality on the school playground during the obligatory walk, I almost lost my voice. Truly childish resourcefulness and creativity know no bounds!“
Mine Craft is so addicting that it can suck in even adults for a long time. Seeing its colorfulness and fantastic opportunities for “building creativity”.
It feels like the game develops creativity and raises an entire generation of young mega-architects. It’s a delusion.
A child is not able to become an architect without the development of spatial representations at a completely different level associated with the feeling of their place in space (in the language of neuropsychology – somatognosis).
Many of today’s 8-year-old Mine Craft players often cannot follow the simple instruction: “Touch your left forefinger to your right eyebrow,” cannot jump on one leg and jump rope.
The problem is that the reading, counting, and writing taught in school are directly related to somatognosis.
As our generation, during vacations, and after school, non-stop playing in the yard with a ball, rubber band, blind man’s buff, climbed trees and playfully stole apples in orchards, in our prefrontal cortex, the basis of emotional-volitional maturity, self-regulation, and successful assimilation of school material was developed. The same cannot be said about the “young architects of MineCraft”.
It is important for parents to know that in early childhood, the brain develops through the coordination of body movements.
According to the laws of neuropsychology, too early mastering of skills of a higher order, such as reading, writing, and counting, can inhibit the development of thinking and emotional-volitional regulation, as a result leveling out the dubious fruits of “early development”. Each age and stage of development has its own biological and psychological needs. Everything has its own time!
#6 – Educational Games
One of the latest gaming trends is the gamification of education and the creation of educational games. There is a wide variety of educational computer games for different ages. There are really interesting and useful games with which you can teach children many useful skills, including reading, writing, logic, and the basics of a foreign language.
But the real benefits of playing video games of such type are possible only in the case of a systematic, methodologically correct approach. i.e., with regular training for a certain amount of time, taking into account the setting of goals and control over their achievement by a trained adult.
Otherwise, under the guise of educational games, one can also find ordinary killers of free time who only spend valuable time resources and do not bring the child any benefit at all.
#7 – Educational Games Based on the Principle of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback
This is a true innovation in the world of medicine and education. Through the use of biofeedback technology, a person can significantly develop their potential. The principle of this technology is akin to a “physiological mirror”.
First, the problem or skill that needs to be trained is identified. For example, develop the skill of diaphragmatic breathing (useful for children with various respiratory system disorders, frequent SARS), the ability to better concentrate (useful for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), or quick relaxation (useful for quickly tired and anxious children).
With the help of sensors measuring various physiological parameters (electrical activity of the brain (EEG), respiration recursion, skin conduction, heart rate, temperature, etc., an adult or a child is connected to a small unit connected to a computer on which special software is installed.
The program diagnoses the current status of the skill and automatically sets a goal to improve it slightly during a 20-30 minute training session.
During the training, the child receives instructions and sees a game or cartoon, which they can control with the help of “correct” breathing, good concentration, or deep relaxation.
For example, if a child breathes “correctly”, that is, with a diaphragm and at a given pace, then the images and soundtrack of the cartoon are clean, pleasant to watch, and if not, then the child sees auditory and visual interferences and instinctively tries to adapt their breathing to the “necessary” mode. With the help of a series of such training, the child’s new skill is brought to automatism, which they can then at any time “turn on” if necessary.
With the help of temperature sensors that are installed on the fingertips, it is even possible to teach a person suffering from vegetative dystonia to raise the temperature in the extremities by the power of thought and to warm up on their own.
The method is effective, safe, practically has no contraindications, can be used from the age of 7 (the only condition is the ability to understand and follow the instructions). As in the case of educational games, it is necessary to be accompanied by a trained specialist – a doctor or psychologist.
By establishing biofeedback with the brain with the help of modern medical diagnostic equipment, you can quickly and effectively learn much of what yoga and oriental contemplative practices teach. It sounds like a miracle, but this modern technology has been confirmed by thousands of scientific studies and is widely used in Germany, the USA, Canada, and Russia for medical, preventive, and educational purposes.
Core Benefits of Playing Video Games
A few words about the neurophysiological nature of games and why they are so popular with children and adults.
Developers of computer games actively use two principles that are well known in scientific psychology: the principle of dopamine addiction and the principle of better memorization of unfinished actions (the “Zeigarnik” effect) associated with unfinished gestalt.
#1 – Dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced in the human body and serves as an important part of the brain’s “reward system”, as it induces feelings of pleasure, which affects the processes of motivation and learning.
- It is thanks to dopamine for the immature brain of a child that there is nothing sweeter than a computer game.
- This is because video games have a reward system – getting a new level, badges, or trophies. This makes children very happy.
- The dopamine rush by itself does not bring about happiness – rather, it is just arousing. We are fast, cheerful, and passionate. We sense the opportunity for pleasure and are willing to work hard to achieve it.
- With the influx of dopamine, this new desire object seems to be critically needed to survive.
- When dopamine grabs our attention, the brain tells us to reach for the object or repeat what attracted us.
- So dopamine, by making us feel good, can trigger addiction.
- The more we play, the better we feel.
One study found that video games induce a dopamine surge comparable to amphetamine use: dopamine fever accompanies both gambling and drug addiction. The child cannot predict when they will receive points or move to another level, so their dopaminergic neurons continue to fire, and they stick to the chair.
In the case of children, even with strict dosage, we still get addiction. Even if a child does not play too much, they still “mentally” remain in the game. In a dream, they see playful images. In this state, it is generally difficult for them to focus on their studies.
#2 – The Zeigarnik Effect
The psychological “Zeigarnik Effect” was named after the founder of Russian pathopsychology, Bluma Wolfovna Zeigarnik. Thanks to the research of Zeigarnik and Kurt Levin in the middle of the 20th century, it was proved that:
Incomplete actions are remembered better than completed ones.
In their experiments, the creative activity of the children was interrupted, and they were offered another activity. If the rest of the potential was not realized, the children at the first opportunity tried to complete the unfinished business. On average, uncompleted actions in healthy children were recalled 90% better than completed ones.
Parallels can easily be drawn with the passage of countless levels – in all video games, there is a manipulation of the principle of incompleteness.
Similarly, the attraction to video games can be explained by the “law of incomplete gestalt.” Gestalt therapy is a direction of psychotherapy that took shape in the middle of the last century. Without going into the jungle of theoretical psychology, we can say that gestalt is a holistic image of a situation.
A close to the academic definition of gestalt, translated from scientific into English, sounds something like this: “Gestalt is an integral structure in the field of interaction between the environment and a person, covering the gap between the emergence of a need and its satisfaction.” A person has a natural inner need to “complete the gestalt,” that is, to embrace a holistic image.
The never-ending gestalt in the form of an unrealizable ephemeral goal of becoming an 80th level elf has an extremely destructive effect on the child’s psyche, their ability to set goals and achieve them in real life.
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