Concern from parents regarding their kids' gameplay habits is nothing new, but a new study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics 'strongly' suggests that children who play a lot of video games might actually be doing quantifiable harm to their attention spans.
The survey [PDF
], which followed 1,323 elementary school students for over a year, found that those who play games more than two hours a day are 67 percent more likely to have attention problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in home and in the classroom. It's a similar correlation as found in other studies surrounding television consumption, the results say.
One hypothesis under investigation is that media like TV and games are stimulating enough to young minds that they reduce their ability to remain engaged in the real world. "Others have hypothesized that because most television programs involve rapid changes in focus, frequent exposure to television may harm children’s abilities to sustain focus on tasks that are not inherently attention-grabbing," the published results say.
However, the study concedes it can only prove correlation, not causation. The study's lead author, Iowa State University doctoral candidate Edward Swing, says it's an issue of relationship between media and distractibility, rather than a fact that games or television definitely degrade kids' ability to pay attention or tackle mundane challenges: "It wouldn't surprise me if children who have attention problems are attracted to these media, and that these media increase the attention problems," he tells CNN
And further, researchers admit it's tough to argue that a child able to remain engaged with video games -- which often require persistence, repetitive behaviors and focus on motor-skill tasks -- has focus and attention problems. Further research is needed, it suggests, to explore the difference between the type of attention required for media and the type required for kids in academic and household settings.
A smaller simultaneous study of college students found that those who consume more than two hours a day of television and games are twice as likely to have attention problems. These students may have entered their academic programs with existing issues that led them to spend blocks of time on media instead of on classwork during a period of life when schedules are rigorous for many, and it's again difficult to prove causation over correlation.
Nonetheless, because of this cumulative later-life effect, the study recommended that parents limit their kids' TV and game time to under two hours a day for the best chance of effective and healthy habits in early adulthood.