Good Enough Parenting

What Do Video Games Do to the ADHD Brain?



Why can’t they stop playing?

If you literally have to yank the video game controller from your ADHD child’s hands to get him to come to dinner, then you’re aware how compelling, even addicting, video games are to an ADHD child.

Video games were introduced in 1972. According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), video games are ubiquitous as they are played on everything from home consoles such as Xbox to live streaming Internet tablets or hand held devices. Not surprisingly, computer and video game sales in the United States are over a $19 billion industry.

The KFF also reports that more than two-thirds of all children ages 2-18 live in a home with a video game system. Video game playing, even more than television watching, is an activity that kids tend to do alone.

What does this all amount to? The average young person accumulates 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. How does that compare to school attendance? It’s just 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. It’s the equivalent of a full time job at more than 40 hours a week.

So why are video games so intriguing? Many ADHD children seek increased stimulation. Their brains demand bigger, louder, and faster paced visuals. Often accompanying these demands is an increased need for risky behavior and high intensity action. Video games provide just this, and it can be somewhat like a drug or a favorite slice of pizza to a binge eater.

Some speculate that this is due to neurotransmitter problems and others attribute it to a genetic link. Whatever the cause, it makes video games incredibly irresistible and mundane tasks like homework almost impossible.

What Do Video Games Do to the ADHD Brain?

The bad seems to outweigh the good.

Not all video games are created equal. The most popular games, according to Forbes magazine, are first person shooter games such as Batman Arkham Knight, Battlefield Hardline, and Bloodborne. The primary goal is to kill one’s enemies with a variety of sophisticated high-tech guns.

Other video games create environments with good story lines, puzzle solving, and empire building. Cognitive games or games that teach mental tasks are also available. However, studies performed on these games show very little to no effect ADHD improvement.

Play Attention uses a body-based attention controlled feedback system inspired by NASA where players can actually move game characters by mind (attention) alone. This system has been tested by medical schools in randomized, controlled studies and has proven to have lasting positive effects for ADHD students.

A new study says that playing video games can create a vicious cycle for ADHD children. In the past, most research has focused on biological and genetic factors. Very little has been done to determine how much the child’s environment affects their outcomes. However, Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University and lead author of the study published in the American Psychological Association's journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture shows that environment, especially video games, can have a significant impact on children with issues like impulse control and ADHD.

Gentile’s team tracked the behavior and gaming habits of more than 3,000 Singaporean school children, aged 8 to 17, over three years. The children were administered various self-reporting tests to diagnose ADHD and impulse-control issues. The reports also required the children to track how often they played video games and the video games’ degrees of violence. The study, Gentile said, was part of a much larger study on the positive and negative effects of video games.

As has been found in past research (Christakis 2004; Landhuis 2007, etc.) the researchers found that video games both help and hurt with attention issues.

Video game play seems to increase short-term visual attention which is the ability to rapidly process information from your surroundings. For example, if you’re playing an aerial combat game, it’s necessary to quickly process and assess the number of opposing combatants so that you don’t get shot down. While this skill is necessary for this task, it is of little value in the ordinary classroom or workplace.

The negative impact is far greater than the benefits. Gentile thinks it can make it harder for some children to complete goal-oriented tasks that require long-term concentration. According to his research, the excitement and excessive stimulation of playing a video game far exceeds any ordinary daily stimulation making the real world less interesting.

Gentile also notes that time spent playing video games may also detract from the time a child might spend developing their impulse control. "Electronic media use can impair attention necessary for concentration even as it enhances the ability to notice and process visual information."

So, the bottom line for ADHD brains: Gentile’s research and prior research have found that children who spent more time playing video games were more impulsive and had more attention problems. Even more importantly, he discovered that children who have those issues also tended to play more video games producing a vicious cycle.

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Posted by CoParenting

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