Researchers Cite Merits of Youths' Video Games
Cambridge, Mass--Video games do not exert the negative influence on young people that many adults have assumed, researchers generally agreed last week at a three-day conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Speakers at the conference, which was funded in part by a $40,000 grant from the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research, said that many video games are too violent. But they said the games also have many positive effects.
B. David Brooks, an instructor at the University of Southern Califor-nia, said he was amazed at the degree of misunderstanding about video games. Arcades, he said, "do not present a danger to youths."
Mr. Brooks, who interviewed 973 children between the ages of 10 and 18 in the Los Angeles area, said the children he talked with do not miss classes despite playing video games for an average of eight hours per week.
Mr. Brooks said that 80 percent of the youths he interviewed spent less than $5 on video games per week, and only 6 percent say they or their friends stay out of school to play the games.
The arcades do not appear to con-tribute to drug or alcohol problems among young people, he said.
Added Edna Mitchell, chairman of the department of education at Mills College in Oakland, Calif.: "Video games are not taking over American families." Ms. Mitchell said a survey of 20 families had found that families tended to spend more time together if they played video games and that discipline was rarely a problem connected with the games.
In general, Ms. Mitchell said, boys are more attracted than girls to video games. She said there is evidence that, with practice, girls could "recover" from possible deficiencies in spatial abilities, which are central to video games, by playing frequently.
The games could even have a positive effect on the academic performance of children, speakers said.
A student's performance on the games appears to be related to his or her performance on standardized tests, said Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The children who do well on video games tend to be brighter and more ready for school than those who do poorly, he said.
Forty percent of the families interviewed by Ms. Mitchell said that the games had improved their children's school performance.
Mr. Anderson said that video games apparently do not have a relationship to the amount of television a child watches.
William Lynch, the director of the brain-injury rehabilitation unit of the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., said that games have modestly improved the motivation and attention spans of his patients.
Video games appear to have a "modest positive effect" on the teaching of hand-eye coordination, Mr. Lynch said.
Atari, the conference sponsor, is the producer of many video games, including "Pac-Man."