By guest blogger Allison Gamble
Children of all ages around the world seem to love video games, much to the chagrin of parents, teachers, and health care professionals. Conventional wisdom would have everyone believe that video games are pretty horrible for a child's mental and physical health. They promote a sedentary lifestyle, and many believe that the sensory overload that comes from playing many types of games actually contributes to learning disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. However, apparently it does take a psychology degree to see past those hypotheses. Some studies have shown that playing video games may actually be beneficial to children with ADHD, rather than harmful to them.
It's not too difficult to understand how playing video games can help treat ADHD. While some believe that the addictive quality and sensory overload that video games provide could make ADHD symptoms worse, many video games require players to concentrate and focus on tasks for long periods of time in order to achieve goals. As a child plays through a video game, he or she learns to develop strategies, recognize patterns, and focus intently on the task at hand. In other words, players can learn the same skills that ADHD patients often struggle with by playing video games. One example of a game that may prove helpful in treating ADHD is the classic puzzle game Tetris. Tetris is a simple game in which players organize blocks of different shapes as they fall to the bottom of the screen. The object is to organize the blocks into solid lines to get them to disappear. When the pile of blocks reaches the top of the screen, the game ends. The game speeds up at regular intervals, requiring faster and faster reaction times. It also doesn't end until the player loses, so the only goal is to achieve the highest possible score. It's a simple game, but the ever-increasing challenge and simple goal of getting a high score can challenge ADHD-affected players and raise their attention span.
Modern video games such as those available for the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 can help some players overcome ADHD symptoms as well. Many of these games have achievements and hidden items to find, and they can keep gamers busy for months. They may not be as effective in helping children with ADHD as games such as Tetris simply because they are not forced to work towards these goals, but the fact that they require children to concentrate and pay close attention means that it can be at least somewhat beneficial to children who have difficulty doing so.
The idea that video games can be effective in treating ADHD is centered around a relatively new treatment called neurofeedback. In neurofeedback, a patient is asked to focus on a monitor or television screen while electrodes are placed on his or her scalp. As the patient focuses on the images on the screen, special software monitors the electrical activity in their brain. This software is able to tell how focused the patient is on the images that he or she sees. In a typical neurofeedback session, the patient is rewarded with pleasant imagery, such as blooming flowers in a field. If his or her attention begins to wane, the flowers might wilt or the lush green field may turn grey. It's a way to tell patients to work harder to pay attention and provide a reward when they do. There is evidence that suggests that neurofeedback is helpful in treating ADHD, although it is still a controversial method of treatment. Neurofeedback treatment currently requires at least 40 sessions and can cost thousands of dollars. It is also scientifically unproven, so much of the evidence that suggests that it works is anecdotal.
The idea of video games being used as a treatment for ADHD has been around for a while now. Children who are heavily affected with ADHD will still lose interest in a game after a while, but a game combined with neurofeedback could help children do the exact opposite. Neurofeedback software can be used with a video game system such as a Playstation or Xbox to keep an ADHD-affected child focusing on the task at hand. For example, a neurofeedback system could involve a typical racing game. As long as the player remains engaged and focused on the game itself, the car controls as normal. As the child begins to lose focus, the car slows down until it no longer moves. The child has to remain engaged in the game to keep playing. While many people can point out the drawbacks of playing too many video games, there can be little doubt that they can be effective in helping to treat children with ADHD. The treatments that attempt to follow this theory are new, but there haven't been many generations who have grown up playing video games. Perhaps if old prejudices about video games can be put aside we could have a novel way to treat ADHD and similar learning disabilities.
Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing and focuses her online psychology efforts at psychologydegree.net.