Video Games Cause Shorter Attention Sp– Hey Look, I Just Leveled Up!

by Matt Bertz on Jul 06, 2010 at 08:20 AM

If scientists and journalists are to be believed, attention spans are more endangered now than ever before. For that you can thank your steady diet of Family Guy episodes and marathon Call of Duty sessions, according to a new study released in the journal Pediatrics.

In the new study "Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems" published by the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers Edward L. Swing, Douglas A. Gentile, Craig A. Anderson and David A. Walsh (these guys LOVE their middle initials) collected data on the television and video game habits from over 1,000 children and undergraduates during a 13-month period. Their discovery? "Most of the research evidence thus far supports the conclusion that exposure to television and video games increases the risk for subsequent attention problems."

Games and television aren't the only forms of media facing an inquisition as to the diminishing attention spans. In his new book "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," technology reporter Nicholas Carr argues that the mindless self indulgence of Twitter, Facebook, and Lolcats is also destroying our ability to concentrate.

As Jonah Lehrer's book review of "The Shallows" in The New York Times pointed out, however, there is a ton of data that suggests that this rewiring of our brains is actually beneficial. "A comprehensive 2009 review of studies published on the cognitive effects of video games found that gaming led to significant improvements in performance on various cognitive tasks, from visual perception to sustained attention. This surprising result led the scientists to propose that even simple computer games like Tetris can lead to 'marked increases in the speed of information processing.' One particularly influential study, published in Nature in 2003, demonstrated that after just 10 days of playing Medal of Honor, a violent first-person shooter game, subjects showed dramatic increases in ­visual attention and memory."

So which is it – are we becoming vacant nincompoops or amazingly talented superhumans? The answer, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.