Games versus reading in the battle for cognition and school performance? The score seems 0-1

This research has a huge amount of respondents and is very interesting, but I’ll have to point out the weak point straightaway before people read the wrong things in it. The insights in this study by Alain Lieury, Sonia Lorant, Bruno Trosseille, Françoise Champault & Ronan Vourc’h is not based on experiments and you might have guessed it already, is correlational not showing a clear causal relation. But there seems to be a clear correlation between school performance and reading as a leisure activity rather than gaming.

Maybe smarter kids just read more? Could well be.

And do note: this research doesn’t show games are bad, taking a break from homework can be a good thing.

Oh, and what do you read is also interesting:

The highest correlations are with reading books and especially reading literary works (‘famous writers’) with Reading Comprehension tests and the Encyclopaedic Memory test. Similarly, reading crime/thriller/fantasy books is correlated with the same tests. According to the transfer specificity hypothesis, book reading has its most pronounced link with similar subjects; i.e. literature or history school subjects in the encyclopaedic memory test. On the other hand, very few correlations above .10 appear with the Reasoning dimensions (RCC). These results do not support the hypothesis that reading detective novels could improve logical thinking in general. On the contrary, note that the comics which are sometimes considered as subliterature (especially in France) have small positive correlations with the Encyclopaedic Memory test.

It does show reading is probably better, well, maybe, and if I say better I mean for school performance.

From the press release:

After a busy day children do need downtime to rest and relax. Increasingly kids leisure time is spent gaming, but does it detract from homework or would kids be better off reading a book? Historical research shows in some cases that interactive gaming can have positive effects for cognition by promoting memory, attention and reasoning. Other speed oriented games have been shown to improve perception and motor skills, so should gaming for relaxation be encouraged? Lieury et al investigate whether type of leisure activity produces a ‘transfer effect’ influencing learning processes thus improving student performance at school. With an emphasis on gaming and reading they linked patterns of leisure activity with performance in phonology, reading and comprehension, maths, long term memory and reasoning. Fascinatingly gaming previously thought to improve fluid intelligence showed little or no positive correlations to performance whilst reading did, particularly in memory and comprehension. It seems then despite lack of a causal link that reading may be more likely to enhance academic performance.

Should we assume that time spent gaming and away from homework is harmful to students? A further comparison of reading and gaming to most frequent leisure activities showed no negative patterns but interestingly resting had a favourable effect on performance as well as reading. So frequent leisure activity is not necessarily harmful to progress, or always at the expense of homework but can be enriching. The authors conclude “we think that video games are mainly recreational activities and the cognitive stimulation provided is very different from school learning. On the contrary, the results of this survey fully justify the educational role of parents and teachers in promoting reading.”

Abstract of the research:

Video games are a very common leisure activity among teenagers and the aim of this study is to analyse their relations with cognitive and school performances. This study is part of a broad survey, conducted on 27,000 French teenagers (14.5 years old) in middle school (9th grade). The survey contained both a questionnaire on leisure activities practised by teenagers and school/cognitive tests: Comprehension tests, Math, School Knowledge, and Reasoning. The activity frequency (‘never’ to ‘every day or almost’) is studied on five kinds of video games (i.e. action/fighting) vs. seven reading activities (i.e. crime/thriller/fantasy). Results show that there are no correlations or very slight ones between Video Games and cognitive/school tests. Reading activities have potentially important associations with cognition and especially school tests. To conclude, video games are primarily recreational activities and the cognitive stimulation they produce is very different from the one involved in specialised academic subjects

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