Video-game/ADHD study’s attention is in the wrong place // just call Okla. legislator “Will Bill-killer”


A new study from Doug Gentile looks at video games and ADHD. But is he seeing the right things? Photo by Flickr user StacieBee.

Our buddy Douglas Gentile, along with Edward Swing, an Iowa State University psychology doctoral candidate, recently released a new study on ADHD and video games. More specifically, they studied the effects of video games on children with attention-deficit disorder and found that, while these kids were able to focus while they were playing video games, gaming may be distracting them from more important activities that could help them build attention.

Once again, a video-game researcher is treating video games as no more than a distraction — rather than as a potential way of capturing kids’ attention and imagination. Alas, the whole study isn’t online yet, so we have to go with what’s been written elsewhere.

First, the methodology: they asked an unknown number of Singaporean students, ages 8 to 17, to take questionnaires at three intervals — each a year apart starting in grades three, four, seven and eight. The kids also completed psychological tests commonly used to measure attention and impulsiveness.

I’m inferring from the writeups that Gentile and Swing found that video games didn’t help kids’ attention spans in nongame situations, though there aren’t a ton of details. Here’s what Gentile said:

“In most video games or with most screen media, there is constant flickering of light which forces an orienting response. There are also sound effects and noises, and you need to attend to them, too. I think of these as crutches for attention — they support your attention so you don’t have to work hard to attend.

“That’s very different than being in the classroom where the teacher doesn’t have sound effects, lighting, special effects, music and camera angles. The child has to work to attend rather than having external support for attention. Our data suggest that the children who already are most at risk for attention problems play the most games, which becomes a vicious cycle.”

If you’re going to look at games as a distraction, rather than an example of how to engage kids with attention issues, of course you’re going to come to that conclusion. Other research is showing how video games can boost classroom learning — even among kids without attention problems. Jane McGonigal, one of video games’ most enthusiastic current evangelists, points out:

Gamers who play ten hours of games or more a week ultimately bring these qualities into their real lives – they want to be of service to others, objectively plan, an be involved in something greater than themselves.

She highlighted the program: Quest to Learn, a school designed around the concepts of game development. The children do not play games all day (rather much the opposite). Instead, the theory, concepts, and ideas are based around game development theory. The focus becomes mastery and competence rather than performance.

This changes the focus from rote memorization and achievement and rather on mastery of content and development of skills.

So, maybe ADHD kids are benefiting from their game time. Or maybe they need real life and classroom time to be more like video games. So they can actually learn.

“Sin Tax” killed in committee
In related video-game news, Oklahoma legislator Will Fourkiller’s “sin tax” on violent video games was struck down last week. When the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation balked at the idea of a tax, Fourkiller instead proposed a task force that would study the effects of violent video games on youth. It was defeated 6-5.

“Why just video games? Why not French fries or rap music or movies?” asked Representative Pat Ownbey.

Many others pointed out that, in the wake of last summer’s Supreme Court vote vetoing a ban of violent-game sales to minors, that such a tax was likely unconstitutional. Looks like Fourkiller’s going to need to find another cause upon which to hang his re-election campaign.

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One response to “Video-game/ADHD study’s attention is in the wrong place // just call Okla. legislator “Will Bill-killer”

  1. Pingback: Congressmen revive, expand failed proposal for warning label on violent video games | Backward Messages

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