How do video games affect cognition?

With the ever-growing popularity of video games, there have been concerns about how they affect cognition, particularly for children and teens. Some primary concerns are whether video games may cause behavioral issues such as increased aggression. The best way to draw conclusions is to approach the topic through multiple perspectives and studies, so let’s dive into what the research says!

video games and cognition

Video games and cognitive skills

Some studies show us that video games actually help to develop children’s cognitive skills. Video games demand sustained attention, fast processing speed, and executive functions such as decision-making. Therefore, video games may help kids develop enhanced cognitive flexibility, logic, and problem-solving skills.  These skills are valuable for real-life situations.

Video games have also been shown to improve working memory in one study.  When compared to other screen activities like watching videos, only video games showed the result of enhanced cognitive skills. The interactive nature of games makes it so that the players get more cognitive exercise out of the activity. However, the scientists noted that they didn’t differentiate between the genres of video games that they used in this study.

Video games and aggressive behavior

Genre could actually make the difference between us seeing video games as healthy or unhealthy for cognition. In studies specific to violent video games, there was a correlation found between these games and aggressive behavior.

A potential issue with violent video games, as opposed to violent movies or other media, is that the game may require players to step into the perspective of the aggressor and act in their best interest. As the player, your character may have to kill or harm other characters in the game. The research determined that young men and boys who already have aggressive tendencies may experience enhanced aggression when they regularly play this type of video game.

In one of these studies, college-aged participants who played a non-violent video game were compared to participants who had played a more violent one. Researchers asked all participants to “punish” an opponent via a loud buzzer after playing the video games.  Those who played a violent game punished their opponent more aggressively. This showed a distinction in the participants’ mindsets after playing violent vs. non-violent video games. While violent video games could still exercise the cognitive skills that other video games do, the potential result of increased aggression may be cause for concern.


Video games can be a great activity for both kids and adults, and can exercise important cognitive skills such as attention, working memory, processing speed, and executive function! The catch is that the game genre makes a big difference in the results. More violent games may lead to aggressive tendencies, so be conscientious about game genres. Non-violent games are probably a better choice for cognitive health in the long term.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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