Level up: Playing video games linked to higher IQ in children

SOLNA, Sweden — High video game scores may lead to better academic grades. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam say kids who spent more time playing video games also experienced above-average increases in intelligence.

Spending lots of time on social media or watching TV, meanwhile, had neither a positive nor a negative effect on intelligence.

It’s no secret that modern children spend lots of time staring at a variety of different screens. Researchers originally set out to investigate possible links between screen habits and intelligence over time.

Over 9,000 male and female children living in the USA took part in this study. Around the age of nine or 10, each child underwent a series of psychological tests measuring their intelligence. At that time, researchers asked both the children and their parents how much time each child usually spent watching TV and videos, playing video games, and browsing social media.

Study authors followed up with more than 5,000 of those kids after two years, at which point they asked the group to repeat the original psychological intelligence tests. Study authors were also sure to consider any genetic differences that could affect intelligence among the children, as well as factors related to their parents’ educations and incomes.

IQ boost in kids who played more video games

The children spent an average of two and a half hours daily watching TV, half an hour on social media, and one hour playing video games. Importantly, though, kids who played more video games than the average increased their intelligence between the two tests by roughly 2.5 IQ points.

“We didn’t examine the effects of screen behavior on physical activity, sleep, wellbeing or school performance, so we can’t say anything about that,” says Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet, in a university release. “But our results support the claim that screen time generally doesn’t impair children’s cognitive abilities, and that playing video games can actually help boost intelligence. This is consistent with several experimental studies of video-game playing.”

More research is warranted on the connection between video game playing during childhood and intelligence outcomes. For instance, which types of video games promote sharp cognition?

“We’ll now be studying the effects of other environmental factors and how the cognitive effects relate to childhood brain development,” Prof. Klingberg concludes.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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