Top Paper Award, ICA 2020

This year, I am honored to share that my colleagues and I have been recognized with the Top Published Article Award for 2019. Awarded by the Children, Adolescents, and the Media division of the International Communication Association, this award is given annually to an article that colleagues in the field represents “a significant contribution to the field of children, adolescents and media”.

The article, “Child’s Play? Assessing the Bidirectional Longitudinal Relationship between Gaming and Intelligence in Early Childhood” was published in the Journal of Communication. I am incredibly proud of this article, as it truly reflects the process of academic curiosity. The article stemmed from an internal question we had been batting around: do games support intelligence? We knew the literature on the ill-effects of gaming quite well, but time and time again, we heard suppositions that there is “good”, too, particularly when it comes to more flexible (fluid) intelligence. But, direction wasn’t clear to us because most existing work was correlational (i.e, both directions were possible). Couldn’t it be just as likely that youth with stronger fluid intelligence might seek more digital games? We had ourselves a chicken or the egg problem!

Armed with longitudinal data from 934 kids, we set out to understand the relationship better. The results, like most work with youth and media, revealed more complexities than a simple “yes/no” answer. But, our data does indicate that digital game play can support fluid intelligence … not the other way around. So that’s an important start. In the article, we also underlie the challenges of answering this question and make a call to the field to improve measurement, pay closer attention to individual differences, and recognize the value to longitudinal methodology that is sensitive to within-child variation. In other words, there is much work to be done, but first indications suggests those digital games offer important opportunities for intelligence.

The complete reference and abstract is below. Feel free to comment below if you’d like a full text copy.

Fikkers, K. M., Piotrowski, J. T., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2019). Child’s play? Assessing the bidirectional longitudinal relationship between gaming and intelligence in early childhood. Journal of Communication69(2), 124-143.

This study investigated the longitudinal relationship between children’s digital game use and fluid and crystallized intelligence. Specifically, this study examined whether digital games affect children’s fluid and crystallized intelligence (an effects perspective), whether children with higher levels of fluid or crystallized intelligence are more attracted to digital games (a selection perspective), or whether evidence supports a reciprocal relationship between digital game play and intelligence. Using data from 934 children aged 3 to 7 years (52% girls) across four waves with one-year intervals, our evidence for fluid intelligence indicates partial support for the effects perspective and no support for the selection perspective. For crystallized intelligence, our findings did not reveal any significant relationship with digital game use. The results suggest that digital games can move the needle for fluid intelligence, but more insight is needed to identify how this effect occurs, in which situations, and for which children this is most likely.