Child’s Play? Digital Games and Intelligence

In a recently released study published in the Journal of Communication, my CcaM colleagues and I dug into the relationship between gaming in early childhood and intelligence … and our results might surprise you!

Numerous studies have shown that the children’s intelligence has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. This trend is particularly evident for fluid intelligence (i.e., the ability to analyze novel problems, identify the patterns and relationships that underlie problems, and solve these problems using logic), whereas smaller increases have been reported for crystallized intelligence (i.e., the ability to access information from long-term memory, often referred to as general knowledge). The question is: what might explain this increase?

Some scholars have suggested that today’s media space – particularly the richer interactive gaming space – offers children an opportunity to exercise their visuospatial, logic, and problem-solving abilities which, over time, can support (fluid) intelligence. On the other hand, other scholars have suggested that any link between gaming and intelligence is likely in the reverse direction – whereby greater (fluid) intelligence predicts increased gaming.

So, which is it? We followed 934 children (aged 3 to 7 years) for four years and tracked their game play and their intelligence. We looked at both directions: does gaming predict intelligence? Does intelligence predict gaming?

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Our results suggest that game play does influence fluid intelligence, but the reverse direction was not found. That said, the pattern was not always consistent between waves so these findings should be considered an important start for a larger program of research. This study represents the first study to investigate the longitudinal relationship between digital game play and intelligence. Improved theorizing, measurement, and operationalization of constructs will help us get closer to a sophisticated understanding of the opportunities of digital games during childhood. For now, though, it seems that there is some indication that digital games can benefit young users. Digital games are here to stay, and as children increasingly complement their analogue play experiences with digital game play, it will become even more imperative to understand how these experiences may benefit young users

You can find the full study here: Karin M Fikkers, Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, Patti M Valkenburg; Child’s Play? Assessing the Bidirectional Longitudinal Relationship between Gaming and Intelligence in Early Childhood, Journal of Communication, Available online: https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz003

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