Short-term effects of playing video games on attention (Tahiroglu et al., in press)

In about a week, I’ll be doing my GRE and I have been delaying some readings to prepare myself, although I don’t feel that I would be ready by the appointed time. Well, here goes +200$ down the drain.

Gamepolitics reported a study from Iowa State University. Kira Bailey (grad student) and Robert West (faculty advisor) about video game experience and its association with a decrease in cognitive control (type: proactive). Press release here. Reactions from the crowd were swift and rowdy. Christopher Ferguson sent his retort. And I decided not to review the article since the study is outside my academic boundaries; I get vertigo if I read neuro-stuff. Instead, I’ll review a Turkish study (still in press) from the Journal of Attention Disorders.


Objective: The main aim of the present study is to investigate the short-term cognitive effects of computer games in children with different psychiatric disorders and normal controls.

Method: 101 children are recruited for the study (aged between 9 and 12 years). All participants played a motor-racing game on the computer for 1 hour. The Stroop TBAG test was applied to all participants twice (pretest: before playing the computer game, posttest: then immediately after playing the game.

Results: Participants with improved posttest scores, compared to their pretest scores, used the computer on average 0.67 ± 1.1 hr/day, while the average use of computers was measured at 1.6 ± 1.4 hr/day and 1.3 ± 0.9 hr/day for participants with worsened or unaltered scores, respectively. According to the regression model, male gender, younger ages, duration of daily computer use, and ADAD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) inattention type were found to be independent risk factors for worsened posttest scores.

Conclusions: Time spent playing computer games can exert a shortterm effect on attention as measured by the Stroop test.

I guess this is more relevant to the audience’s interest…but the study’s writing is something to look forward to…


Participants: 101 Turkish youths (age 9 to 12 years) recruited from the university’s child and adolescent psychiatry department. Two-thirds of the sample is boys. Of the psychiatric disorders the sample consist: 53 kids (52.5% of sample) diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (type: combined), 14 kids (14.9%) with the inattentive-type, 14 (14.9%) diagnosed of other psychiatric disorders. They said nothing about any comorbidity of their sample, this uncertainty might be a potential confound. The rest of the sample (19 kids or 18.8% of the sample) don’t have any psychiatric disorders and are thus the control group, but small compared with the other group.


Psychometric evaluation: Psychiatric disorders are evaluated using the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia Present and Lifetime version, translated for the Turkish population.

Attention measure: the Stroop Task (TBAG version), participants are shown a card and must say the colour of the ink the word is printed on. This differs from Bailey’s stroop task which they used a computerized version and a keyboard as a response stimulus.

Video game used: Colin McReally 3 [sic] for one hour alone.

Demographic and computer use: participants are asked about their daily use and purpose of using a computer.


Participants were given a pre-test stroop task, then played the racing game for one hour alone in a room. After that, they are given a post-test stroop task.


They analyzed the data using Chi-square tests, Shapiro-Wilks tests, Mann-Whitney U tests, Kruskal-Wallis tests and Wilcoxon’s rank sum test. If any of this doesn’t mean anything to you, well I don’t get it either (except for the chi-square).

They analyzed the stroop results on two scores: number of total errors and corrections (NTEC) and total duration (TD).

Starting from general categories: the patient and control group showed improved stroop scores (both types) from pre-test to post-test. As do boys and girls.

However, the control group boys showed no improvements (both NTEC and TD scores) from pre-test to post-test. It seems to look like in the right direction, but statistically not. Given there’s only 10 boys in the control group, that’s something to note. The patient group boys are faster (TD score) post-test, but they haven’t improved on avoiding errors.

So far, anyone but the average boys seem to benefit (in the short-term) from video games on their attention abilities.

Analyzing the stroop data with the computer use and psychiatric condition as independent variables, the results become somber for young gamers and computer users.

Those who play video games on a daily basis don’t show improvement, but are still faster. Those who use the computer more than one hour a day don’t show any improvements (NTEC or TD score). Those who use the computer less than one a day, or who never used a computer or used the computer for other purposes have shown improved post-test stroop scores. There’s a flaw in this data, in that the researchers asked two questions that are intimately related. How can you asked the time you spent on the computer without considering what you do on the computer? What if there are boys who play computer games for less than an hour per day, can the researchers do such an analysis?

Among the groups with psychiatric disorders, only those of the ADHD-combined type group has shown improved post-test stroop scores, but their scores are worse than the control group.

Next they separated the groups (psychiatric disorders, computer use duration and purpose of computer use) on the basis of stroop score changes. Of course, I have to ask how they defined a worse or an improved score. I also wonder if comparing percentages is good way to analyze changes.

Among those who never used a computer, more than 70% have improved stroop scores. However, among those who used a computer for than one hour a day, half of them had worse post-test scores. Among those who play computer games, it’s rather ambiguous: 44.3% have improved scores, 34.4% have worse scores, and 21.3% had no changes. So that means for the kids between 9 to 12 who play video games: your results may vary on your ability to pay attention. However, I am not sure if the authors took these scores into account that there are participants with ADHD.

70% of kids with the combined-type ADHD have improved scores, whereas 64% of the inattentive-type had worse post-test scores.

Whenever they mentioned groups that showed no improvement in the stroop task (i.e. the computer game group), they kept saying that the improvements to attention disappears (which is reasonable), but worsens (that’s far-fetched). It’s far-fetched because a non-significant statistical result does not equate a worse result. It means “I don’t see any change”. Actually, when I compared the pre-test scores between the never-used computer group versus the computer game group, the latter had a better score. So, the computer game group is already better than the no-game group and playing the game didn’t produce any shor-term cumulative/beneficial effects. Again, results vary for the computer game group. Of course, the good news is that computer games are beneficial at the start as demonstrated by the no-game group.

At least their results on the amount of time spent on the computer (but not knowing what kind of activities they’re spending) are pretty consistent with previous studies. There’s more to discuss, but I’ve got to stop now. Remember this study is about the short-term effects of playing computer games on attention.

Tahiroglu, A. Y., Celik, G. G., Avci, A., Seydaoglu, G., Uzel, M., Altunbas, H. (in press). Short-term effects of playing computer games on attention. Journal of Attention Disorders,


3 thoughts on “Short-term effects of playing video games on attention (Tahiroglu et al., in press)

    • They administered the stroop task immediately after they finished playing.

      If you want to observe their attention abilities while they’re on the computer, then this could complicate things a bit and the topic would diverge from attention to multi-tasking.

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