Kids who play high volume video games are likely to face difficulty in staying attentive, says a new study.

Iowa State University study has found that high volume action video game players, who play around 40 hours per week, actually had more difficulty keeping focused on tasks requiring longer, more proactive attention.

“Our thinking right now is the sort of real world effect that you might be seeing is that these are individuals who would really have difficulty trying to maintain their attention independently over time,” said Rob West, one of the study’s authors, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Cognitive Psychology program at Iowa State.

“So if they’re engaged in some activity that doesn’t really capture their attention - like maybe a classroom lecture, or studying in a quiet space - they’re going to have difficulty maintaining attention on their own,” West added.

Lead researcher ISU and psychology graduate student Kira Bailey analysed the data from 51 Iowa State undergraduate men aged 18 to 33, who were nearly evenly divided between those who reported playing less than a couple of hours of video games per week, and those who played video games an average of 43 hours per week.

“We were not actually measuring the most extreme ends,” West said. “There were people who we were unable to recruit and have data for who have higher rates than 43 hours per week. So this is probably on the high end, but it’s certainly not the highest. You get some undergrads self-reporting that they’re playing 9 or 10 hours a day,” the expert added.

In the task, individuals identified the color of a word when the color and word matched, or did not match. It takes longer to indicate the color when the word does not match.

The study found that reactive attention control - described as happening “just in time” - was similar in the two groups of gamers. But brain wave and behavioral measures of proactive attention were significantly diminished in the frequent video game players.

“It’s not clear what the effects would be if we tested people who were playing 10 or 20 hours a week,” West said. “So we don’t know if it’s a graded effect or threshold effect - like maybe 10’s OK, but 20’s not. We don’t have those kinds of data yet.” “As you can imagine, this study could have implications for classroom and work performance for those people who play a lot of video games,” he added.

The study appears in journal Psychophysiology.

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