While the difference in cognitive ability was minor and insufficient to demonstrate a causal link, it was significant enough to be noticed — and the study took care to account for variables such as heredity and the child’s socioeconomic background.
Meanwhile, neither watching TV nor using social media appeared to affect IQ in any way. The findings should be helpful in the argument over how much screen time is appropriate for children’s thinking.
“Digital media characterizes modern infancy,” the researchers write in their report, “yet its cognitive impacts are obscure and widely discussed.”
“We feel that genetic data studies might help to clarify causation claims and account for the often overlooked function of genetic predispositions.”
The researchers examined screen time records for 9,855 children in the ABCD Study, all of whom were aged 9 or 10 and lived in the United States. The kids said they spend 2.5 hours a day watching TV or online videos, 1 hour playing video games, and half an hour interacting on the internet on average.
Two years later, researchers looked at data for almost 5,000 of those youngsters. Over the course of the study, people who spent more time playing video games than the average saw their IQ climb 2.5 points higher than the average.
The rise in IQ was based on the children’s performance on reading comprehension, visual-spatial processing, and a memory, flexible thinking, and self-control task.
While the study only looked at youngsters in the United States and did not distinguish between video game genres (mobile versus console games), it is still a useful insight into gaming and IQ – and supports the concept that intelligence isn’t a fixed constant that we’re born with.
“Our findings corroborate the argument that screen time does not harm children’s cognitive capacities in general, and that playing video games can really assist increase intellect,” says Karolinska Institute neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg.
As the researchers point out, this isn’t the first study to reveal a relationship between how much time youngsters spend gaming and their cognitive ability – and there appear to be other advantages to playing video games as well.
Small sample sizes, diverse study designs, and a lack of consideration for genetic and socioeconomic factors, according to the researchers, have all contributed to the inconsistent results on the impacts of screen time that have been found thus far. These are the constraints that this research attempted to address.
All of this is to imply that there are many variables at play, both in terms of how intelligence develops and forms, as well as the various ways in which screen time affects our bodies and habits – and that much more study is needed.
“We didn’t look at the impacts of screen time on physical activity, sleep, wellness, or school achievement,” Klingberg adds.