A study has confirmed what any savvy parent could have told you: young boys who are given games consoles may fail to advance as far academically as their Wii, Xbox and PlayStation-less peers.
A team from the Denison University in Ohio led by psychologists Robert Weis and Brittany Cerankosky gave PlayStation 2s to 32 boys out of a group of 64 lads aged between six and nine years old. None of the kids had a console already.
Half of the children given a console got it at the start of the study, the rest at the end. The test ran for four months. During that time, parents kept a record of their kids' activities from the end of the school day until bedtime.
Reading and writing skills were assessed throughout the group at the start and at the end of the study period.
The researchers didn't monitor what the boys were doing with their consoles, only how much time they spent playing on them.
The results were clear - you'll undoubtedly have guessed them already. Kids with consoles spent less time doing other things, from homework to reading to less tangible academic activities such as discussing their school day with parents. That manifested itself in slower progress in the development of reading and writing, as evidenced by "significantly lower reading and writing scores" in the second, final set of tests.
However, they did not show any untoward behavioural issues after taking possession of their PlayStations.
All this comes as no surprise, perhaps, but the study does nail down the answer to questions of whether modern kids can cope with cramming more activities into the day: they can't. Gaming, in this case, displaced other activities - it wasn't shoehorned in.
Gaming, of course, isn't inherently any worse than any other non-academic activity, but its role on modern youth culture ensured that boys took to it with an enthusiasm they might not have shown with other activities.
Past studies have not demonstrated such a clear link between the time spent on academic and semi-academic activities and academic progress because they have focused on kids who already play videogames, many of whom may do so precisely because they perform less well as school and not the other way round.
The researchers said more work needs to be done, specifically to assess whether the pattern shown in the study continues over a much longer period, or whether the effect is reduced over time as the novelty of the console wears off.
The study was published by the US Association of Psychological Science. ®
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