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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Do Video Games Improve Cognitive Performance?

Two smiling children hold game consoles.

Study finds improved cognitive and memory skills in kids who play video games.

Photo: Pressmaster / Shutterstock

A study of nearly 2,000 children found that those who reported playing video games for three hours per day or more performed better on cognitive skills tests involving impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games. Published in JAMA Network Open, this study analyzed data from the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, supported by NIDA.

“Numerous studies have linked video gaming to behavior and mental health problems,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow. “This study suggests there may also be cognitive benefits associated with this popular pastime, which are worthy of further investigation.”

Scientists at the University of Vermont, Burlington, analyzed data obtained when children entered the ABCD Study at ages 9 and 10 years old. The research team examined survey, cognitive and brain imaging data from nearly 2,000 participants from within the bigger study cohort. 

The three-hour threshold was selected as it exceeds the American Academy of Pediatrics screen-time guidelines, which recommend that video gaming time be limited to one to two hours per day for older children. 

Investigators found that the children who reported playing video games for three or more hours daily were faster and more accurate on cognitive tasks than those who never played. 

In the gamer group, functional MRI brain imaging analyses found higher brain activity in regions of the brain associated with attention and memory. This group also had more brain activity in frontal brain regions associated with more cognitively demanding tasks and less brain activity in brain regions related to vision. 

While prior studies have reported associations between video gaming and increases in depression, violence and aggressive behavior, this study did not find that to be the case. There were reports of higher mental health and behavioral issues in this cohort but the authors could not confirm whether this trend reflected a true association or chance. They note this will be an important measure to continue to track and understand as these children mature.

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