Too much, too young, too little, too late?

Computer games may contribute to mental illness in children, but for adults they protect against cognitive decline, at least according to neuroscientist Susan Greenfield. However, the evidence for these claims is non-existent for the former, and only preliminary for the latter.

Baroness Greenfield has lent her name, and investment cash, to the ‘brain training’ game MindFit which was launched today in the UK.

It has apparently been shown in an as-yet-unpublished randomized controlled trial to boost cognitive function in senior citizens.

Interestingly, this time last year, Greenfield was a signatory to an open letter suggesting that “sedentary, screen based entertainment” was damaging to children’s brain’s because they “they cannot adjust ‚Äì as full-grown adults can ‚Äì to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change”.

So what evidence is there that computer games are detrimental to children’s minds, but beneficial to adults?

There is some evidence that violent media, including computer games, is associated with aggression in children, but none that computer games in general affect mental health or that children cannot adjust to rapid technological and cultural change.

Limited evidence suggests that cognitive training can help healthy older adults stay sharp, but there is no evidence on how it can effect mood or mental health.

So, on the basis of current evidence, or at least the lack of it, we could just as easily warn against the possible mental health implications of “sedentary, screen based entertainment” for seniors as for children.

In lieu of further evidence, I suspect the message that computer games are ‘good for adults but bad for children’ is based largely on common, but unsupported, social concerns about how technology is used: too much by children, not enough by seniors.

Link to BBC News story ‘Mind games’.

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