Gaming for Grades: An Upside to Video Games?

Gaming for GradesIt’s that time again: back to school! As the school year starts rolling, many teens consider what may give them a leg up in school. A new study suggests that both video games and social media use might be connected to a student’s performance… and not just in the way that you might think.

What? Can it be? That’s right, a study out of Australia that was published this year suggests that 15-year-olds that report higher than typical levels of video game usage had better performances on assessments of math, reading, and science when compared with other 15-year-olds. And before you post your #videogamesforbrains hashtag, there’s this: the same study found that teens that report more than average Facebook use had math scores that were 4 percent lower (and overall performed lower on all three subjects) than their peers.

The study used a survey of more than 12,000 Australian 15-year-olds that both assessed their use of the internet and had performance testing for “practical skills and knowledge” in math, reading, and science. The author also says that they controlled for the influence of geography within Australia, primary language, parents’ educational level, household income, and indigenous status, meaning that they used statistics to remove the influence of these variables when asking the question about internet use.

So… Fire up the Wii? Not so fast.

First and foremost, it’s important to consider that these are correlations, which means that while two things are associated, it does not means that one causes the other. Video games use is associated with higher performance testing in this study, but video games use could be connected to higher performance in a way other than the video games making kids smarter. In this report on the study, for example, a professor of game design makes the point that this could mean that kids with the type of intelligence that leads to high performance might look for challenges in the environment around them and be more likely to find them in video games rather than social media. Additionally, that same expert makes the point that not all video games are created equal, and that games that require complex strategies might have different associations than “twitch games” (like Pong or first person shooter games).

Additionally, even if video games did increase academic performance, there’s more to consider. We’ve blogged before about how screens can make falling asleep more difficult (and we know that sleep is important for things like making memories and academic performance). And, while there is some debate about whether violent video games are associated with more violence IRL (in real life), this large meta-analysis that looked at many different video game studies found clear relationships between violent video games and aggression.

In conclusion? There’s a lot to learn. This study seems to suggest that we shouldn’t disregard a possible positive outcome from video game usage, but there’s a lot more to know about how much and what kind of gaming might be helpful.

And we can’t leave it all to the internet: the Australian study also found that teens that skipped or were late to class had significantly lower performance scores in math, reading, and science. So get to class!