The Pitfalls of Gaming Overload

Posted on February 3, 2012


I found this article at The Times of India. It’s quite the interesting read.

Rohan Mullick, a ninth grader, faces a tough choice daily-textbooks or YouTube. Ideally, Mullick should have finished reading the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ as part of his reading assignment. “But that’s brainnumbingly slow,” he complains.

He went to an online video site and got a gist of the book. “I got the whole story in 10 minutes,” he says, gloating.

For generations, children have faced distractions and time hogs of different kinds. Today, to a large extent, they are smartphones, tablets and computers.

“With sites like YouTube, and hundreds of TV channels, kids’ brains are rewarded not for staying on task, but for jumping to the next thing,” says Dr Y Machiswala, head psychiatrist, Masina Hospital.

Many children nowadays suffer from conditions like Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because of technology overload. And two of the biggest contributors, according to a recent study conducted by the Iowa State University (ISU), are television and videogaming.

“ADHD might be a medical condition, but it is also a brain condition,” writes Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology in his research paper . “Constant media consumption can increase the risk of a medical condition like ADHD in the same way that cigarettes can increase the risk of cancer.”

The researchers assessed 1,323 children in the third, fourth and fifth standards over 13 months, using reports from parents about their videogaming and television habits, and teachers about their attention problems. The study concluded that children who exceeded a screen time of two hours per day were 1.5 to 2 times more susceptible to attention problems.

“It is still not clear why screen media may increase attention problems, but many researchers speculate that it may be due to the rapid-pacing, or the natural attention grabbing aspects that television and video games use,” writes Gentile . This is especially true for small cartoons and fast-paced videogames.

Gentile claims that the pace of TV shows has been quickened by ‘the MTV effect’. “When the channel appeared, it started airing really short music videos, some as short as one or two seconds,” he writes. As the trend caught on, other TV channels followed with quicker edits. “When it comes to attention spans, this quicker pace may have some brain-changing effects,” Gentile writes. “If the kid’s brain is trained to require constant stimulation with flickering lights and fast moving images, then classrooms or textbooks won’t be enough to sustain their attention.”

Dr Machiswala concurs with the findings. He recently treated a five-yearold for attention problems mainly because his mother used her smartphone as a free-of-charge babysitter ever since the boy was three.

“With two older kids, she thought of this as a great way to keep the younger one occupied. She would just play cartoons and the rapid moving characters would keep the boy engaged,” Dr Machiswala says.

He has seen that shortening attention spans and excessive media consumption are also causing physical problems in children: obesity, lack of sleep, moodiness, lack of social interactions and vitamin D deficiency.

He talks about another patient, a sixteen-year-old student, who had started living in an alternative reality online. “He used to spend most of his waking time playing videogames and watching online videos,” Dr Machiswala says. “He hardly saw sunlight and even had his meals in front of the screen. Technology dependence took him to a different kind of psychosis. The videogames made him violent. When his parents tried to interfere, he started hitting them.”