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What is the Impact of Gaming on Teenage Mental Health?

What is the Impact of Gaming on Teenage Mental Health?

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

gaming mental health teenager

Iconsidered many titles for this short review. It could have read “Gaming Improves Mental Health of Teenagers” – that may have garnered a few more clicks – not stricly true though. It could also have read “Gaming Has No Impacts on Mental Health of Teenagers”, however, the data can be seen in two ways.

So, I settled on the simple question so as not to mislead too much. But the long and short of it is that we do not need to be overly concerned with gaming rotting our kids’ brains, causing emotional withdrawal, and a host of mental health problems. In the vast majority of cases there is no impact and in a sizable proportion heavy gaming seem to improve mental health! So, let’s dig into what this study did and didn’t find.

This data comes from the 2021 OxWell survey which analysis data from surveys of school children between 12 and 18 in the UK. This dataset had 12’725 participants. And what did they find?

They found that:

  • 31.2% play games for at least 3.5 hours a day – this is the “heavy gamer” group
  • There was no significant correlation between playing games and mental health issues
  • 8% reported not gaming
  • They classified 6 types of gamers
  • 8% were classed as maladaptive (i.e. experience negative effects)

So, on average no real cause for concern. However, there are some surprising and worrying results also. One surprising result is that 44% of heavy gamers experienced higher well being than those who games less or not at all. Who would have though it? On the negative side there is, indeed, a subgroup who do experience negative effects. A small proportion of the heavy gamers experience a loss of control and wellbeing issues.

A notable subgroup was the 2% who are classed as maladaptive phone gamers, playing mostly on their phone, being mostly female, and are more likely to have experienced abuse and other traumatic events. This seems to point that traumatic life experience are pushing some individuals to maladaptive behaviours – and this also opens the door to intervening and being able to identify these and hence also pre-empt the issues.

It therefore seems that gaming is not the cause of mental health issues but can contribute to underlying issues. Of course, the argument could also be that gaming reduces other activities and so can also over longer terms have a negative impact. However, I reported here that those who spent most time on social media were also most social in person – also a surprise. Whether this translates over to gaming, I don’t know, but good to know at least.

But for now, we know that gaming shouldn’t be a worry for parents or others in society, but we do need to be able to identify and support those who are prone to maladaptive behaviours – be that in gaming, or other areas.

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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References

Simona Skripkauskaite et al
Time Spent Gaming, Device Type, Addiction Scores, and Well-being of Adolescent English Gamers in the 2021 OxWell Survey: Latent Profile Analysis”
JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting, 18.11.2022
https://pediatrics.jmir.org/2022/4/e41480/

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Why Children Learn More Quickly Than Adults

Why Children Learn More Quickly Than Adults

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

learning brain

We kind of all know that children learn more quickly. Sure, as adults have more knowledge but when it comes to grasping new information and remembering things kids have the upper hand, Sometimes by a long way.

It’s also one of those things which we just seem to accept – consider when I saw the headline to this latest research on learning – I thought, but of course kids learn quicker. Yet this doesn’t help us really explain why. Our brains are made of the same material and the same chemicals so why should those little whippersnappers learn quicker than us old fogies – not fair!

The answer it seems lies in an underrated neurotransmitter known as GABA. This is actually a key transmitter in the brain but rarely gets much popular exposure in contrast to other sexier transmitters such as dopamine and oxytocin.

So, what is happening with GABA and children’s brains?

In a recently published study by Frank et al. they measure GABA before during and after learning in children and adults on a visual learning exercise using refined imaging techniques.

They saw that in children GABA levels were raised during and importantly after the stimulus. And this translates into more effective learning, stabilising the trace in the brain into a memory.

GABA is the brain primary inhibitory transmitter. The brain has transmitters that stimulate and activate neurons, excitatory transmitters, these are normally the famous ones. But it also needs to inhibit and slow down activation and that is the role of GABA. We know that this is important, but this shows that it doesn’t just inhibit transmission but enables stabilisation of input and therefore also of increased learning.

Adults in contrast can pull on other resources to learn, such as existing knowledge and to put learning better into context – but simply building memories and getting new stuff into the brain is done better by kids.

And sorry oldies, I don’t know how you can activate your GABA more when learning!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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References

Sebastian M. Frank, Markus Becker, Andrea Qi, Patricia Geiger, Ulrike I. Frank, Luke A. Rosedahl, Wilhelm M. Malloni, Yuka Sasaki, Mark W. Greenlee, Takeo Watanabe.
Efficient learning in children with rapid GABA boosting during and after training.
Current Biology, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.10.021

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Right, so artificial networks also need sleep!

Right, so artificial networks also need sleep!

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences


Ishould say that it is artificial neural networks that seem to need sleep, or a rest. But isn’t one point of an artificial network that that of it not needing sleep, or rest?

For those of you who don’t know, artificial neural networks are networks built by engineers in the computing space to mimic the brain’s cells and therefore hope to get better computing, or different, computing outcomes. Therefore, it comes as a real surprise that, apparently, rest improves their performance. It comes as a real surprise because these are not biological entities, there are numerous reason we need rest as human beings, as biological beings. One is that there is a slow build-up of toxic material as we function. Another is that there is also constant genetic damage that needs to be repaired.

So why do these networks need rest? First let’s understand what happens. These networks are designed to mimic neuronal functions – so far so good – and they have become really good at some things such as computational speed. But there is something called catastrophic forgetting – no, not like when we stand in the supermarket and can’t for the life remember what we wanted. This is when these networks learn sequentially, one task after another, new information can then overwrite old information and it is gone, “forgotten”.

Golden et al. at the University of California have now reported that when these artificial networks are trained on new tasks but with periods off-line mimicking sleep, they could replay old memories but without using old training data. This is due to the patterns that are replicated during our biological sleep. In our sleep the synapses, connections that is, between neurons are strengthened. You brain essentially replays your day’s input and strengthens memories during sleep (that’s one of many reasons sleep is so important). When this process was replicated it mitigated this catastrophic forgetting.

So, fascinating it is that we are building artificial neural networks that replicate the brain’s processes for better computational processing power but also fascinating that these artificial networks also improve performance with sleep.

This goes to show that good old biology, and evolution, seems to have got it right. And for us also another reminder of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep.

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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References

Ryan Golden, Jean Erik Delanois, Pavel Sanda, Maxim Bazhenov. 
Sleep prevents catastrophic forgetting in spiking neural networks by forming a joint synaptic weight representation.
 PLOS Computational Biology, 2022; 18 (11): e1010628
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010628

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Making Voting More Effective for Better Decisions

Making Voting More Effective for Better Decisions

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

Voting is something many of us do regularly as adults in different ways. But the most common way is plurality voting – that is one voter for one person that can only be cast once.

However, there are different ways to vote. Popular shows such as American Idol use multivoting whereby the audience memebrs have 10 votes to share as they see fit. They can use all ten for one candidate or distribute them as they wish across candidates.

Another method is ranked-choice whereby choices should be ranked in the order one sees as best.

The question though is what is best? This is the question researchers at the University of Washington wanted to find out but specifically into what enables better decision making. In many decision-making bodies such as in business or government simple plurality voting is used.

To do this the researchers used 93 teams of graduates in an anti-terrorism exercise modelled on teams used post 9/11. 31 teams each used the different voting methods. They first read information on three suspects and voted on who they thought was the greatest threat – they then discussed the suspects after the vote, and then voted again.

In the plurality voting scenario, teams identified the correct suspect only 31% of the time. Basically, around about pure chance. So actually ineffective. Did the other voting scenarios perform better?

Well, ranked-choice performed only a little better with 32% of the time. But the largest difference was in multivoting – here 45% of teams identified the correct suspect. But there was another surprise.

This was that multivoting seemed to be more effective before the discussion. We would assume that voting and then discussing would lead to better insight and therefore making a better decision. But this was not the case. In multivoting it seems that it forces people to think through things more carefully in the first place. The ensuing discussion can then side-track thinking for multiple reasons.

So, according to this research at least, multivoting is easily the most effective method for making decisions. Something many businesses should seriously consider – particularly in important decisions – and prior to discussion!

It could be too complicated for political voting but then again, I live in Switzerland, and we already use a similar version. Implementing this in a different country would be a challenge – but for now, for decision-making, we do know that multivoting appears to be the best method. Well, for what it’s worth, it has my vote(s).

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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References

Michael D Johnson, Eli Awtrey, Wei Jee Ong.
Verdicts, Elections, and Counterterrorism: When Groups Take Unofficial Votes.
Academy of Management Discoveries, 2022
DOI: 10.5465/amd.2021.0099

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We’re Bad at Remembering How Happy We Were

We’re Bad at Remembering How Happy We Were

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

The good ‘ole days, eh! There is some evidence to suggest that we always view the past though rose-tinted glasses – feeling that the past was somehow better than the present. However, research just out has shown that that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Research by Alberto Prati, Claudia Senik for the Association of Psychological Science has shown that current feelings impact our view of the past. To do this they have assessed data from different longitudinal studies into how happy people feel over time. These include a German study over 10 years of 11’000+ participants, a British study over 12 years of 20’000+ participants, a French study of over 18’000 participants, and about 4’000 results from the USA over a period of 35 years.

What did they find?

What they found is that there seem to be some mix up between current ratings and change in happiness over time. This in contrast to the past is better hypotheses. This showed that those who felt happy now rate their past happiness as lower than it actually was. It seems that feeling happy now suggests an improvement or a contrast to the past and so the past must have been less good.

In contrast the opposite happened with those with current lower happiness – they rated their past happiness as higher than it actually was.

This shows that our past memories are influenced by our current states. Prati and Senik plan to further research how memories impact current life decisions – that will be interesting to see. I also wonder how this influences political climate!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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References

Alberto Prati, Claudia Senik.
Feeling Good Is Feeling Better.
Psychological Science, 2022; 33 (11): 1828
DOI: 10.1177/09567976221096158

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