Parents who fear that buying a video game system will hurt their kids' schoolwork might be right. • Young boys who receive their first video game system don't progress as quickly in school as boys who don't own such devices, a new study found. • The average reading and writing scores of the young gamers don't go down, but they don't improve either, said Robert Weis of Denison University in Ohio, co-author of the study.
"For children without games, scores go up over time," Weis said. "For boys with games, scores remain relatively stable. You don't see the typical development in reading and writing."
The study found that the young gamers averaged about 40 minutes per day on the PlayStation II system, likely cutting into study time and social activities. Children without the system in their homes still averaged nine minutes per day of video gaming, usually at the homes of friends, the study found.
An official for the Entertainment Software Association, a Washington trade group for video game makers, said the study results were not a surprise, but no cause for alarm.
"Can anyone be surprised that kids tend to play more with new video games, or toys or bicycles, than with the older ones?" said Richard Taylor, senior vice president for communications for the group.
But that novelty can wear off and "the authors themselves note that they are not sure the effect would exist after four months," Taylor said.
Weis acknowledged the need for a study on the effects of long-term ownership of video games.
"Maybe after a year they become less interested or don't play them as often," Weis said, although the boys in his study did not show any dropoff in the four months.
While the conclusion that owning a video game increases the time kids spend on such game might seem obvious, Weis, a clinical psychologist, said it was important to scientifically prove that conventional wisdom was correct. The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Weis and colleague Brittany C. Cerankosky used newspaper ads in central Ohio to recruit families with boys between the ages of 6 and 9 for the study. The families did not own video-game systems, and the parents were told their sons were participating in an "ongoing study of boys' academic and behavioral development." Girls were excluded from the study.
Parents of the 64 selected boys were promised a PlayStation II gaming system in exchange for their participation, plus three E-rated games. But half the families were given the video gaming system immediately and half were promised it after four months.
The children completed intelligence tests, plus reading and writing assessments, at the beginning and after four months. Also, parents and teachers filled out questionnaires relating to the boys' behavior at home and at school.
The study found that the boys who received the video-game system immediately spent more time playing video games (39.3 minutes versus 9.3 minutes) and less time (18.2 minutes versus 31.6 minutes) in after-school academic activities.
Taylor, from the software association, noted there was only a 13-minute difference between the two groups in the time spent in after-school academic activities.
But the new gamers had lower reading and writing scores after four months, and their teachers reported more learning problems. The biggest gap was in writing.
Weis says the message from the study is that parents should limit the amount of time their children play video games.