Visual Processing and Inattentive ADHD

There is good news and bad news regarding visual processing and Inattentive ADHD and video games. I have posted three abstract of studies that I will blog about below this post in case anyone would like to read more about the research that I am writing about.  There are too many abstracts to post so only some of them are cited.

Video game playing appears to help vision, attention, and visual processing in a number of ways.  Studies indicate that visual tracking, visual processing speed and visual contrast differentiation are improved by playing video games.  Multi-sensory improvements are also seen and video games improve not only the speed of visual procession but also help with auditory processing and auditory discrimination.  Studies have also shown improvements in visual attention and auditory attention.  

Video games have been used to improve visual tracking and spacial resolution.  Spacial resolution is this interesting skill that involves seeing a target image accurately despite the presence of distracting visual stimuli.  This latter skill appears to have to do as much with attention as it does with vision.  Some researchers have suggested that video games may be used to train attention.

The bad news is that video game playing causes academic deficits and this gaming may cause other mental health issues.  Children who played more video games spent less time on academic pursuits and had lower scores on reading and writing scores.  

A study performed on Norwegian Adults found that increased video time correlated with increased sleeping problems, anxiety and depression.  The adults with the greatest mental health problems played video games for the longest periods of time.  A study out of Germany warns that in children with ADHD, video gaming is more likely to cause video game addiction as these children have a unique neuro-psychological profile that puts them more at risk when exposed to addictive behaviors.

The take home message is probably that some video gaming is good and that too much is bad.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than 1 or 2 hours per day.  They also recommend that parents monitor the quality of the video games.

I am sure that playing baseball or tennis also improves visual tracking and that the fresh air and exercise has benefits as well.  The bottom line is that video games are not evil and may be somewhat helpful in improving attention and vision but too much of a good thing is well, too much of a good thing.

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2010 May;72(4):1120-9.Video game players show more precise multisensory temporal processing abilities.
Donohue SE, Woldorff MG, Mitroff SR.
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0999, USA.

Recent research has demonstrated enhanced visual attention and visual perception in individuals with extensive experience playing action video games. These benefits manifest in several realms, but much remains unknown about the ways in which video game experience alters perception and cognition. In the present study, we examined whether video game players' benefits generalize beyond vision to multisensory processing by presenting auditory and visual stimuli within a short temporal window to video game players and non-video game players. Participants performed two discrimination tasks, both of which revealed benefits for video game players: In a simultaneity judgment task, video game players were better able to distinguish whether simple visual and auditory stimuli occurred at the same moment or slightly offset in time, and in a temporal-order judgment task, they revealed an enhanced ability to determine the temporal sequence of multisensory stimuli.
These results suggest that people with extensive experience playing video games display benefits that extend beyond the visual modality to also impact multisensory processing.

"[Bavelier and Green] showed that playing action games can increase attention ability to a certain extent and that looks promising,"

Nat Neurosci. 2009 May;12(5):549-51. Epub 2009 Mar 29.
Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game training.
Li R, Polat U, Makous W, Bavelier D.
Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department and Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, New York, USA.
Comment in:
Nat Neurosci. 2009 May;12(5):527-8.
The contrast sensitivity function (CSF) is routinely assessed in clinical evaluation of vision and is the primary limiting factor in how well one sees. CSF improvements are typically brought about by correction of the optics of the eye with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. We found that the very act of action video game playing also enhanced contrast sensitivity, providing a complementary route to eyesight improvement.

Nature. 2003 May 29;423(6939):534-7.
Action video game modifies visual selective attention.
Green CS, Bavelier D.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.
As video-game playing has become a ubiquitous activity in today's society, it is worth considering its potential consequences on perceptual and motor skills. It is well known that exposing an organism to an altered visual environment often results in modification of the visual system of the organism. The field of perceptual learning provides many examples of training-induced increases in performance. But perceptual learning, when it occurs, tends to be specific to the trained task; that is, generalization to new tasks is rarely found. Here we show, by contrast, that action-video-game playing is capable of altering a range of visual skills. Four experiments establish changes in different aspects of visual attention in habitual video-game players as compared with non-video-game players. In a fifth experiment, non-players trained on an action video game show marked improvement from their pre-training abilities, thereby establishing the role of playing in
this effect.
Psychol Sci. 2010 Apr 1;21(4):463-70. Epub 2010 Feb 18.

Effects of video-game ownership on young boys' academic and behavioral functioning: a randomized, controlled study.
Weis R, Cerankosky BC.
Department of Psychology, Denison University, Granville, OH 43023, USA.
Young boys who did not own video games were promised a video-game system and child-appropriate games in exchange for participating in an "ongoing study of child development." After baseline assessment of boys' academic achievement and parent- and teacher-reported behavior, boys were randomly assigned to receive the video-game system immediately or to receive the video-game system after follow-up assessment, 4 months later. Boys who received the system immediately spent more time playing video games and less time engaged in after-school academic activities than comparison children. Boys who received the system immediately also had lower reading and writing scores and greater teacher-reported academic problems at follow-up than comparison children. Amount of video-game play mediated the relationship between video-game ownership and academic outcomes. Results provide experimental evidence that video games may displace after-school activities that have
educational value and may interfere with the development of reading and writing skills in some children.


  1. Very interesting, my son gets quite addicted to things and is only 6, well I wouild say obssessed rather than addicted. He is only allowed time on the Wii or DS lite at the weekend and its our reward system, he builds up credits towards time on them and loses them for not such good behaviour. It does concern me though as he would sit in front of the screen for the whole day if allowed. We also tried homeopathy with our son and the consultant there recommended no gaming as the speed of them just feed the speed an ADHD brain wanted to work at, while we were trying to get him to slow down and concentrate, so a contridiction.

    I really appreciate all these useful posts!

  2. I think that maybe all kids get addicted to video games. Maybe it is a little like TV for our generation. I don't know. My mother always called the TV the idiot box. I tell my kids that I don't want them turning into vidiots and that is why I limit their screen time. Now they call each other vidiots because they love calling each other names... Thanks for writing!!


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