ADHD and Video Games: What the Research Says


Video games are part of our world. Research shows links between ADHD and video games, but one doesn’t cause the other. And not all links are bad.

An estimated 91% of children ages 2 to 17 play video games, according to Frontiers in Pediatrics. It’s no secret that video games have become as common as watching TV.

Adults18-36 years old spending more time playing video games than watching television. A Stallion 2021there shows that children with ADHD spend more time playing video games than other children their age.

The heavy use and persistent symptoms of ADHD have many wondering: Does each make the other worse?

The 2021 study also found that the severity of video game compulsion parallel to the severity of ADHD symptoms:

  • impulsiveness
  • inattention
  • hyperactivity

The more intense the symptoms, the greater the likelihood of compulsive behaviors.

The authors clarified that ADHD does not appear to cause video game addiction, but that ADHD should be considered a contributing factor to gaming disorder.

“People with ADHD are more likely to play video games more often, but this game does not cause ADHD,” says Drew Lightfoot, clinical director of Thriveworks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and professor of health care research at La Salle University. “

It’s not all bad news for people with ADHD (and their parents or guardians). A 2015 study highlighted video games as a potential diagnostic and treatment tool.

Older searches from 2002 found that playing video games can improve:

  • spatial visualization ability
  • social skills, language skills
  • math skills
  • reading

There is a growing body of research on the potential benefits of video games and their potential as treatment tools.

In short, no. Lightfoot explains, “ADHD is a neurological disease…that is caused by genetics. Although researchers have not yet identified the exact mechanism(s) that cause ADHD, most experts believe it is genetic.

If you have a parent or sibling with ADHD, you are significantly more likely be diagnosed with ADHD. There are a few isolated cases of severe head trauma resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD, but these are rare.

There are strong links between ADHD and video games. People with ADHD tend to spend more time playing games. Those with more intense symptoms tend to gamble more often.

A2021 study found this “ADHD symptoms and video game addiction appear to have a two-way relationship in which ADHD symptoms make video gaming appealing, while gaming itself exacerbates ADHD symptoms by providing…instant gratification.”

A Stallion 2018there found that people with ADHD are more likely to develop a video game addiction, and those with the most intense symptoms are most susceptible.

Many parents worry about their children’s screen time, whether or not they have ADHD. If kids with ADHD are more likely to develop a video game addiction, those worries may grow, but there’s no need to panic.

As Lightfoot puts it, “video games are generally a healthy outlet for the majority of children,” and while “the World Health Organization (WHO) recently added gaming disorder to their list of diagnoses,” the odds for most children are not significant.

To qualify for a diagnosis, the behavioral pattern must have a significant impact:

  • personal functioning
  • family interaction
  • social interaction
  • educative Hit
  • professional Hit
  • other important areas of operation

Lightfoot says the symptoms must have been present for at least 12 months.

A growing body of research reveals the positive effects of playing video games, including a recent study showing that playing video games can boost children’s intelligence.

Lightfoot says: “Moderate, consistent and intentional use of video games has been shown to decrease symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety and loneliness while increasing symptoms of self-esteem, self-confidence and personal autonomy.

The old study mentioned above found that the potential benefits of video games include:

  • improved spatial intelligence
  • better ability to set goals
  • increased creativity
  • better self image
  • improvement of language skills
  • improvement of math skills
  • improved reading ability
  • greater social skills

Another older study from 2009 found that children who played video games were able to switch tasks faster than those who did not. Such a switch could be particularly helpful for children with ADHD who struggle with transitions and task switching.

A research team led by Dr Isabelle Granic, from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in a review of existing research on the effects of video games, discovered that playing video games box:

  • keep kids healthier
  • improve learning
  • help them learn social skills

The researchers found that playing video games can help children in all kinds of ways, such as:

  • strengthen memory, spatial navigation, reasoning and perception
  • develop problem-solving skills
  • increase creativity
  • improve mood and promote relaxation
  • prevent anxiety
  • learn resilience and cope better with failure
  • develop leadership, organization and cooperation skills
  • improve communication and decision-making skills

Lightfoot says:Although this is an extremely new treatment modality that requires further study, the short answer is: it is possible!”

He goes on to share two examples: “The first is EndeavorRxthe first FDA-approved video game treatment for ADHD” and “the second is More powerfula video game system which, when used in conjunction with therapy, has [been] shown to improve children’s ability to recognize and regulate emotions.

In his article on education and health, dr. Marc Griffithshighlights some of the ways video games can be helpful, including:

  • as research or measurement tools
  • to attract attendees from diverse demographics
  • to test a wide variety of tasks and metrics
  • fun and easy to learn for participants and familiar to most
  • experience novelty, curiosity and challenge
  • an innovative and widely adaptable learning tool
  • angry Birds
  • bad pigs
  • Roblox
  • Minecraft
  • Pretty much any game in the Zelda franchise
  • Guitar Hero
  • Fortnite
  • animal crossing
  • Pretty much any Mario game
  • pikmine
  • Pokemon
  • Tetris (or similar puzzle games)

Some of the best kids’ games are popular with adults too, but here are several games that are best played under adult supervision or recorded for teens and adults:

  • age of empires
  • sims
  • Rise of Nations
  • hollow knight
  • Cuphead
  • Islanders
  • Civilization
  • Katamari Damace
  • Limbo
  • The last of us
  • Mass Effect
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • World of Warcraft
  • Skyrim
  • the witcher
  • Gate

Along with the other benefits discussed, playing video games together can be a great way to bond and build personal connections. There are tons of great multiplayer or co-op games you can play with someone with ADHD, including:

  • Minecraft
  • StarCraft [T]
  • World of Warcraft [T]
  • Guitar Hero
  • Fortnite
  • It takes two
  • Call of Duty [T]
  • Super Smash Bros.
  • rocket league
  • Surveillance
  • armament of war [T]
  • Sports Wii
  • Mario Kart

*Games more appropriate for teenagers are indicated by a [T]

There is a definite link between ADHD and video games, but it is not cause and effect. People with ADHD may be at an increased risk of developing disordered gambling behavior. The more intense a person’s symptoms, the greater the likelihood.

Studies have identified a multitude of benefits to playing video games. Playing video games can boost:

  • children’s learning
  • social abilities
  • problem solving

Video games can also serve as research and measurement tools.

Although a relatively new practice, there is growing evidence that video games can be helpful tools for managing ADHD. One game, EndeavorRX, has even been approved by the FDA as the only prescription video game.

Video games are as much a part of mainstream culture as any other form of entertainment. Children with ADHD are at an increased risk of developing unhealthy gaming behaviors, but most children keep their time playing video games within healthy limits.


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