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Can video games benefit children's brain development? An EVMS professor weighs in.

Researchers want to know how video games play a role in cognitive functions among children.

NORFOLK, Va. — Can video games be good for your child? Researchers are tackling the curiosity with what they call "the largest study," looking at the link between video games, cognition and brain function.

Keone Orpilla, a third grader, loves video games. "[The] object of the game is level up your character and find these things called double fruits," he explained, while getting ready to play a game on his iPad.

Keone said he spends at least three hours or so gaming per day after school. On the weekends, he could be gaming for longer.

"I play trios, duos and solos," he said. "You're like in this place that you can't feel anything, except the stuff you're touching or what you're seeing."

Keone said some games require more thinking than others. When he's really into it, he's focused on strategy.

"Yes, and sometimes quiet," he said. "You need to know where they spawn and everywhere."

Youngsters, similar to Keone, are at the center of an article published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. It compares video gamers to non-video gamers in an effort to answer this question: "What is the role of video games on cognitive functions?," Dr. David Spiegel posed.

Spiegel works at Eastern Virginia Medical School as acting chairman and a professor with the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. 

He offered his thoughts on the study and its results, so far.

"They seem to show that different areas of the brain, biologically, were enhanced by the video games in these domains," he said. 

The domains in which video gamers performed better than non-video gamers are response inhibition and working memory. 

Response inhibition "prevents us from saying or doing things we should not do," Spiegel explained. 

Moreover, medical experts say working memory is about storing information needed for relevant tasks, such as multi-tasking or concentrating. 

The study addressed "negative associations with mental health," by saying "video gaming has been proposed to enhance cognitive flexibility by providing skills that can be transferred to various cognitive tasks."

For this medical article, researchers analyzed more than 2,000 9-and-10-year-olds from across the country and drew them from a pool called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The ABCD bank will be tracked over a decade.

"I think it's a huge study. You're following 10 years of how these children that are 9 and 10, how are they going to turn out at the age of 19 in terms of cognitive performance, behavioral performance," Spiegel said. "I think it's going to be very impactful. 

Spiegel, however, noted this caveat after reading the study. "I don't know if the study could say, at this point, 'Hey, all types of video games help these cognitive functions.' So, they would have to do a separate study on different genres of video games," he said

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a video gaming limit of 1 hour to 2 hours per day for older children. But that could be modified, Dr. Spiegel believes, based on studies like the one for cognitive function.

"Because, in general, you can't apply just a black-and-white label on behavior," he added. 

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