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More Than Just Fun and Games: The Longitudinal Relationships Between Strategic Video Games, Self-Reported Problem Solving Skills, and Academic Grades

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Some researchers have proposed that video games possess good learning principles and may promote problem solving skills. Empirical research regarding this relationship, however, is limited. The goal of the presented study was to examine whether strategic video game play (i.e., role playing and strategy games) predicted self-reported problem solving skills among a sample of 1,492 adolescents (50.8 % female), over the four high school years. The results showed that more strategic video game play predicted higher self-reported problem solving skills over time than less strategic video game play. In addition, the results showed support for an indirect association between strategic video game play and academic grades, in that strategic video game play predicted higher self-reported problem solving skills, and, in turn, higher self-reported problem solving skills predicted higher academic grades. The novel findings that strategic video games promote self-reported problem solving skills and indirectly predict academic grades are important considering that millions of adolescents play video games every day.
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EMPIRICAL RESEARCH
More Than Just Fun and Games: The Longitudinal Relationships
Between Strategic Video Games, Self-Reported Problem Solving
Skills, and Academic Grades
Paul J. C. Adachi Teena Willoughby
Received: 10 December 2012 / Accepted: 16 January 2013 / Published online: 24 January 2013
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Abstract Some researchers have proposed that video
games possess good learning principles and may promote
problem solving skills. Empirical research regarding this
relationship, however, is limited. The goal of the presented
study was to examine whether strategic video game play
(i.e., role playing and strategy games) predicted self-
reported problem solving skills among a sample of 1,492
adolescents (50.8 % female), over the four high school
years. The results showed that more strategic video game
play predicted higher self-reported problem solving skills
over time than less strategic video game play. In addition,
the results showed support for an indirect association
between strategic video game play and academic grades, in
that strategic video game play predicted higher self-
reported problem solving skills, and, in turn, higher self-
reported problem solving skills predicted higher academic
grades. The novel findings that strategic video games
promote self-reported problem solving skills and indirectly
predict academic grades are important considering that
millions of adolescents play video games every day.
Keywords Problem solving Academic performance
Video games Adolescent development
Introduction
Video games are the fastest growing form of entertainment
in the world, with a global market value of $67 billion in
2010 and a predicted value of $112 billion by 2015
(Biscotti et al. 2011). In fact, video game play has become
ubiquitous among adolescents as 97 % of American ado-
lescents aged 12–17 years play computer, web, portable or
console video games (Lenhart et al. 2008; see also Gentile
2009). In terms of frequency, 31 % of adolescents play
video games every day and another 21 % play games
3–5 days a week. In spite of the importance of video game
play to adolescents, however, over the past few decades
psychologists have focused primarily on the link between
video game use and negative outcomes, such as addiction
and aggression (see Anderson et al. 2010, but also Fergu-
son and Kilburn 2010 for criticisms of this work), at the
expense of research on positive outcomes (see Adachi and
Willoughby 2012).
Only recently have researchers begun to investigate
some positive outcomes of video game play. For example,
researchers have examined the relationship between video
games with prosocial content and subsequent prosocial
behavior in experimental (e.g., Greitemeyer and Osswald
2010), and correlational studies (e.g., Ferguson and Garza
2011; Gentile et al. 2009). In addition, some researchers
have argued that, although most video games are not
designed to be educational mediums, they possess many
good learning principles (Gee 2008; Squire 2007). For
example, researchers recently have shown that video games
may be effective cognitive training tools (i.e., video games
can encourage the practicing of certain cognitive skills) for
executive control functions and visual and attentional skills
among both young (Green and Bavelier 2006) and older
adults (Basak et al. 2008) (see Green and Bavelier 2008 for
a review). Furthermore, Gee (2005) suggests that video
games can promote problem solving skills, such as when
games encourage players to stop, thoroughly explore dif-
ferent possibilities, and consider new strategies and goals
before moving on, rather than simply progressing toward
P. J. C. Adachi (&)T. Willoughby
Department of Psychology, Brock University, St. Catharines,
ON L2S 3A1, Canada
e-mail: pa08fg@brocku.ca
123
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
DOI 10.1007/s10964-013-9913-9
their goal as fast as possible. Problem solving is important,
as it is related positively to academic performance (e.g.,
D’Zurilla and Sheedy 1992). To date, however, empirical
research on the link between video game play and problem
solving skills is limited. Specifically, no studies exist in
which researchers have examined whether video game play
predicts higher problem solving skills. Furthermore, con-
sidering that problem solving skills may be slow to develop
and require repetitive practice (Kinney 1952), it is impor-
tant to examine this association longitudinally. Indeed, we
need to address questions of whether video game play at
one point in time predicts problem solving skills at a later
point in time, and whether sustained video game play over
many years is associated with faster increases in problem
solving skills over time than less sustained game play.
Moreover, the direction of effects between video game play
and problem solving skills has not been investigated (Boot
et al. 2011). That is, it is not clear whether video games
predict higher problem solving skills (i.e., cognitive train-
ing effect) or whether individuals who have better problem
solving skills are more likely to play video games (i.e., the
selection hypothesis).
It also is important to test whether video games indi-
rectly predict higher academic performance over time
through elevations in problem solving skills. To date,
researchers have focused mainly on a negative relationship
between time spent playing video games and academic
performance (e.g., Weis and Cerankosky 2010), while
research demonstrating a positive link between video
games that involve problem solving and academic perfor-
mance is scarce (note that this does not include research
focusing on the link between educational or serious games
and academic performance). Thus, the goal of the present
study was to examine the predictive relationship between
playing video games that involve problem solving and
problem solving skills among adolescents over the four
high school years, as well as to test an indirect association
between video game play, problem solving skills and
academic performance.
Video Game Play and Cognitive Training
Recently, video games have been recognized as an effec-
tive cognitive training paradigm for executive control
functions (Basak et al. 2008) as well as several visual and
attentional skills (Green and Bavelier 2003,2006). Cog-
nitive training is thought to lead to an improvement in
cognitive performance over time (Green and Bavelier
2008). Furthermore, improvements in cognitive perfor-
mance are usually specific to the particular domain that was
trained (e.g., Ball et al. 2002). For example, cognitive
training that targets attentional skills may improve atten-
tional, but not memory or problem solving skills. Evidence
for the benefits of video game play for cognitive training
come from Green and Bavelier (2006) who conducted a
series of experiments with young adults in which they
examined differences between video game players versus
non-video games players on a multiple object tracking task,
which required participants to attend to several objects over
time. Green and Bavelier found that video game players
were able to attend to more objects than non-video game
players, and they concluded that this difference in atten-
tional skills may be mediated by elevations among video
game players in their visual short-term memory skills. In
contrast, research on video games as cognitive training
tools for problem solving skills has not been explored.
Moreover, any research to date on the link between video
game play and cognitive skills has been solely concurrent,
and thus the direction of effects (i.e., cognitive training
effects versus selection effects) is unclear (Boot et al.
2011). Thus, longitudinal research is needed to elucidate
the direction of long-term effects.
Video Game Play and Problem Solving
To date, only a few studies have addressed the link
between video game play and problem solving. For
example, Steinkuehler and Duncan (2008) examined
whether discussion forums for the role playing video game
World of Warcraft (WoW) showed evidence of scientific
thought. They found greater evidence of ‘‘social knowledge
construction’’ than social banter, as well as evidence of
systems-based reasoning and even a small amount of
model-based reasoning. However, due to the nature of the
study, it was unclear whether playing the role playing game
WoW in particular was related to higher levels of scientific
thought, or whether discussion forums for different genres
of games such as first-person shooters or action games also
contain similar content. Furthermore, if playing WoW was
related to higher levels of scientific thought, then it is
unclear whether playing WoW led to higher levels of sci-
entific thought (cognitive training effect), or whether peo-
ple with higher levels of scientific thought are more likely
to play WoW (selection effect).
Researchers also have found a relationship between
video game play and persistence when solving problems.
Ventura et al. (2013) had undergraduate participants self-
report about their video game playing behaviors, and then
complete a performance-based measure of persistence,
which entailed a series of anagrams and riddles. Persistence
was operationalized as the amount of time spent on
unsolved anagrams and riddles. Ventura et al. (2013) found
that frequent video game players spent significantly longer
amounts of time working on unsolved anagrams and rid-
dles, compared to infrequent video game players. Thus,
they concluded that persistence during video game play
1042 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
123
also may be applied to other forms of problem solving.
However, the direction of effects is unclear, as it is equally
plausible that people who tend to persist longer in problem
solving tasks are more likely to play video games.
In terms of evidence of strategy use during video game
play, Blumberg et al. (2008) conducted a study in which
they told adult video game players to think aloud when
playing the adventure video game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Blumberg et al. found that frequent video game players
were more likely to make comments reflecting insight (e.g.,
discovering a novel method or approach) and game strat-
egies (e.g., which specific moves to use to defeat certain
types of enemies) compared to non-frequent video game
players. However, although frequent video game play may
be related to greater insight and strategy use when playing
video games, it is unclear whether such insight and strategy
use during video game play predicts higher levels of
problem solving skills in general.
Video Game Play and Academic Performance
The majority of research regarding video game play and
academic performance has been focused on the link
between time spent playing video games and negative
academic outcomes. For example, Anderson and Dill
(2000) conducted one of the first studies on this relation-
ship and found that the overall amount of time spent
playing video games was related negatively to academic
achievement among undergraduate students (but also see
Ferguson 2011 for a concurrent study that did not find an
association between video game play and academic per-
formance). Similarly, Skoric et al. (2009) found a con-
current negative association between pathological video
game play (i.e., addiction tendencies) and academic per-
formance among elementary school students, although they
did not find a significant association between time spent
playing and academic performance, or between video game
engagement and academic performance (see also Wil-
loughby 2008). In addition, Weis and Cerankosky (2010)
conducted an experiment with a sample of elementary
school students who did not own a video game system.
Half of the participants were given a video game system,
while the other half were not, and then follow-up measures
were completed 4-months later. They found that partici-
pants who received the video game system spent more time
playing video games and less time in after-school academic
activities than the participants who did not receive the
video game system. Furthermore, participants who
received the video game system had lower reading and
writing scores as well as more teacher-reported academic
problems at follow-up than participants who did not
receive the video game system. Thus, people who spend
more time playing video games may have less time to
engage in academic activities (e.g., studying), and thus may
perform worse academically compared to people who
spend less time playing video games. In contrast, video
games that involve problem solving may indirectly predict
greater academic performance, because they may predict
higher levels of problem solving skills, and, in turn, higher
levels of problem solving skills may predict greater aca-
demic performance.
The Current Study
Strategic Video Games and Problem Solving
Consistent with research showing that cognitive training
may only improve skills that are specific to the cognitive
domain that was trained (Ball et al. 2002), we hypothesized
that only certain types of video games may predict
increases in problem solving skills. Strategy games may
teach the player to first gather information and think of a
strategy before attempting to solve a problem. For exam-
ple, in Splinter Cell the main character is a black-ops agent
and the goal is to use stealth and remain undetected by
enemies when completing missions. Unlike most action
and shooter games in which the player rushes toward
enemies with guns blazing, in Splinter Cell the player often
must remain hidden by moving slowly and carefully in the
shadows and creating diversions to distract enemies. For
example, when approaching enemies, the player must study
the scene, gather information about how the enemies move,
and formulate a plan regarding when and how to attack
without being detected. Such a strategy often involves
waiting to attack once the enemy has moved to a remote
location, and then hiding the enemy’s body in the shadows.
Considering that this form of problem solving (i.e., gain
information, weigh different options, and formulate a
strategy before acting) is repeated at every level of the
game, sustained playing over time may increase the play-
er’s problem solving skills.
Role playing games also may increase problem solving
skills by teaching players to first gather information and
think of a strategy before trying to solve a problem. For
example, in WoW, when a group of players battle a large
monster called a ‘‘boss,’’ their initial goal is often to gain as
much information about the boss as possible, such as
specific fighting abilities and how the boss maneuvers
during combat. Then, the players discuss this information
and formulate a battle strategy prior to attacking. Because
this problem solving sequence is repeated every time the
player battles a different boss, sustained playing of role
playing games over time also may increase players’ prob-
lem solving skills.
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052 1043
123
Fast-Paced Video Games and Problem Solving
In contrast to strategic video games, more fast-paced
games such as fighting, action, and racing games may
not predict increased problem solving skills over time.
For example, fighting and action games involve imme-
diately attacking enemies with little down time between
battles, and racing games encourage constant fast-paced
driving and maneuvering throughout each race. Although
players can formulate or adapt a strategy while playing
these games in a more spontaneous trial-and-error fash-
ion, there is little to no opportunity to gather information
and strategize before a battle or a race. In other words,
fast-paced games may not contain the same problem
solving sequence that can be found in strategic video
games (i.e., encouraging the player to stop, thoroughly
explore different possibilities, and consider new strate-
gies and goals before moving on), and thus playing fast-
paced video games may not increase players’ problem
solving skills.
It is especially important to examine cognitive training
effects of video game play on problem solving skills
among adolescents, as the executive function of inhibi-
tory control is still developing during adolescence (Kuhn
2009). Specifically, when faced with a problem, adoles-
cents may have more difficulty inhibiting their initial
response in order to carefully consider different strategies
compared to adults, and thus they may be more likely to
use the first strategy that comes to mind. In contrast,
adults tend to have more developed inhibitory control,
and thus may be more likely to inhibit their initial
response so that they can weigh different options, and
then choose the most effective strategy (see Kuhn and
Pease 2006). Thus, it is crucial to identify activities that
predict higher problem solving skills among adolescents
in order to promote the development of inhibitory
control.
To address our hypotheses, we examined whether
sustained playing of strategic games (i.e., role playing
and strategy), but not fast-paced games (i.e., fighting,
action, and racing), predicted an increase in self-reported
problem solving skills across the high school years.
Next, we simultaneously assessed cognitive training and
selection effects. In addition, we examined whether
strategic video games were indirectly related to academic
grades through self-reported problem solving skills.
Three demographic variables (gender, parental education,
and number of computers in the home) were included as
covariates. Finally, given that boys are more likely to
play video games than girls, we also assessed whether
gender was a significant moderator of the results. This
question was exploratory and thus we did not have
specific predictions.
Method
Participants
Students from eight high schools encompassing a school
district in Ontario, Canada took part in the study in grades
9, 10, 11, and 12 (Mage in grade 9 =13 years,
10 months). This study was part of a larger cohort-
sequential project. In the larger study, surveys were com-
pleted five times between 2003 and 2008, with some stu-
dents starting the study in 2003 and others starting the
study in 2004. The analyses for the present study are based
on the cohort of students who entered the study in Grade 9
in 2004 and completed the survey in Grades 9, 10, 11, and
12, as this was the only cohort that was surveyed on all the
measures pertinent to the study (i.e., a Likert-type scale
distinguishing between the frequency of strategy and fast-
paced video game play was included only in the 2007 and
2008 surveys when this cohort of students was in Grade 11
and Grade 12, respectively).The overall participation rate
ranged from 83 to 86 % across the four waves; nonpar-
ticipation was due to student absenteeism (average of
13.5 %), parental refusal (average of .06 %), or student
refusal (average of 1.4 %). Student absenteeism from class
was due to illness, a co-op placement, a free period, or
involvement in another school activity. Consistent with the
broader Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2001),
92.4 % of the participants were born in Canada and the
most common ethnic backgrounds reported other than
Canadian were Italian (31 %), French (18 %), British
(15 %), and German (12 %). Data on socioeconomic status
indicated mean levels of education for mothers and fathers
falling between ‘‘some college, university or apprentice-
ship program’’ and ‘‘completed a college/apprenticeship/
technical diploma.’’ Furthermore, 70 % of the respondents
reported living with both birth parents, 12 % with one birth
parent and a stepparent, 15 % with one birth parent (mother
or father only), and the remainder with other guardians
(e.g., other relatives, foster parents, etc.).
Only students who completed the survey at a minimum
of 2 time points over the four waves were included,
resulting in 1,492 participants (50.8 % female), or 84 % of
the total sample of 1,771 adolescents. Participants who
completed the survey only in grade 9 reported significantly
lower academic grades than the longitudinal participants
(p\.001; mean difference of .41; r
2
=.21, 95 % CI [.17,
.24]. There were no other significant differences between
the two groups. Missing data resulted from absenteeism
and because some students did not finish the entire ques-
tionnaire (10.6 % of the data, consistent with other longi-
tudinal survey studies; e.g., Ciarrochi et al. 2009; Feldman
et al. 2009; Hyde and Petersen 2009). We included three
versions of the survey at each time period so that the same
1044 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
123
scales were not always near the end of the survey. As
missing data were not dependent on the values of the study
measures, it is reasonable to assume that this data is
missing at random (Little and Rubin 2002; Schafer and
Graham 2002), and maximum likelihood estimation (MLE)
was used to estimate the models in AMOS 19 (Arbuckle
1995–2012).
Procedure
Active informed assent was obtained from the adolescent
participants. Parents were provided with written corre-
spondence mailed to each student’s home prior to the
survey administration outlining the study; this letter indi-
cated that parents could request that their adolescent not
participate in the study. An automated phone message
about the study also was left at each student’s home phone
number. This procedure was approved by the participating
school board and the University Research Ethics Board. At
all time periods, the questionnaire was administered to
students in classrooms by trained research staff.
Measures
All measures were assessed across all four grades of high
school (i.e., grades 9 through 12) except for the demo-
graphic variables that only were assessed in grade 9.
Demographic Factors
Single-item questions were used to assess participants’ sex
and the number of computers in the home. Parental edu-
cation was an average of two items (one per parent,
r=.58). Higher scores indicated female gender, more
computers, and greater parental education (1 =did not
finish high school to 6 =professional degree).
Strategic and Fast-Paced Video Game Play
Prevalence of strategic video game play was assessed at
each of the four time periods. Participants were asked to
indicate yes or no to whether they played strategic (average
of two items, i.e., role playing, strategy) and fast-paced
(average of three items, i.e., fighting, action, racing) video
games. An index of sustained play was created for both
strategy and fast-paced video games by calculating the
ratio of number of waves in which the participant reported
playing strategic and fast-paced video games to the total
number of waves that the participant completed (see Wil-
loughby et al. 2011). This index ranged from 0 (e.g., never
played strategy games during any of the high school
grades) to 1 (played strategy games during all of the high
school grades). For example, of participants who
completed 4 waves, those who indicated playing strategic
video games during 3 waves received a sustained play
score of .75. When participants were in grades 11 and 12
only, frequencies of both strategic (i.e., role playing,
strategy) and fast-paced (i.e., fighting, action, racing) video
game play also were assessed (1 =not at all to 5 =5or
more hours on an average day).
Self-Reported Problem Solving Skills
Self-reported problem solving skills were assessed using 5
items (e.g., ‘‘I think hard about what steps to take’’ and ‘‘I
think about the choices before I do anything’’ and ‘‘I tell
myself ‘Stop and think before you do anything’’’) based on
a 5-point scale (1 =never to 5 =usually), and adapted
from Wills et al. (1996). Cronbach’s alpha ranged from .87
to .93 across the four grades.
Academic Grades
Participants were asked to report their typical school grades
for the past year based on a 5-point scale (1 =below 50 %
to 5 =80 % or higher).
Results
Preliminary Analyses
Table 1outlines the means and standard deviations for the
study variables. All measures showed acceptable skewness
and kurtosis. In terms of the demographics, half of the
participants were female, and participants averaged three
computers in the home. In addition, the average parent of
participants had completed some college, university or
apprenticeship program. A significant multivariate main
effect for gender was found at each grade (all Wilks
ks\.001, r
2
ranging from .20, 95 % CI [.16, .24] in grade
9 to .28 95 % CI [.24, .32] in grade 12). Overall, boys
reported more strategic and fast-paced video game play
than girls, while girls reported higher academic grades than
boys.
Long-Term Association Between Sustained Strategic
Video Game Play and Self-Reported Problem Solving
Skills
Univariate Growth Trajectory of Self-Reported Problem
Solving Skills
Latent growth curve modeling in AMOS 19 (Arbuckle
1995–2012) was used to estimate individual trajectories of
self-reported problem solving skills across the four grade
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052 1045
123
levels. Two latent factors were estimated: intercept or
starting point, and slope or rate of change over time. We
first identified a linear growth model, which provided an
excellent fit for the data v
2
(5) =9.51, p[.05; CFI =.99;
RMSEA =.025 (.00–.048), indicating a linear increase in
self-reported problem solving skills over time, as well as
significant variability in the slope (p\.001). We also
tested a non-linear model but it did not significantly
improve the fit for the data.
Association Between Self-Reported Problem Solving Skills
and Sustained Strategic Video Game Play
To assess whether sustained strategic and/or fast-paced
video game play across the high school years indepen-
dently predicted self-reported problem solving skills, we
specified paths from sustained strategic video game play
and sustained fast-paced video game play to the slope of
the self-reported problem solving trajectory, while simul-
taneously controlling for gender, parental education, and
number of computers in the home (see Fig. 1). Note that
the direction of effects between sustained video game play
and self-reported problem solving skills could not be
ascertained in this model as sustained play was not clearly
occurring prior to changes over time in self-reported
problem solving skills. The covariances among sustained
strategic game play, sustained fast-paced game play, and
the intercept of self-reported problem solving also were
estimated. Model fit was excellent, v
2
(15) =14.55,
p[.05; CFI =1.00, RMSEA =.000 (.00–.024). Sus-
tained strategic video game play significantly predicted the
slope of self-reported problem solving, b=.18, 95 % CI
[.02, .34], p\.05, such that participants who reported
higher sustained strategic video game play also reported
steeper increases in self-reported problem solving scores
over time than participants who indicated less sustained
strategic video game play (the indexes of sustained video
game play did not account for the frequency with which
participants played the games; however, we obtained
similar results when controlling for overall video game
play by adding a growth trajectory for frequency of overall
video game play). Sustained fast-paced video game play, in
contrast, did not significantly predict self-reported problem
solving skills, b=.01, 95 % CI [-.17, .19], p[.05.
Assessment of Cognitive Training and Selection Effects
Our second and third set of analyses simultaneously
assessed cognitive training (playing strategic video games
precedes an increase in self-reported problem solving
skills) and selection (self-reported problem solving skills
precedes an increase in strategic video game play) effects,
as well as the indirect relationship between strategic video
game play and academic grades, using autoregressive
cross-lagged models. We first tested cognitive training and
selection effects with our Likert scale measure of the fre-
quency of strategic and fast-paced video game play in
grades 11 and 12. Second, we tested these effects, as well
as the indirect relationship between strategic video game
play and academic grades with our dichotomous measure
of strategic and fast-paced video game play (i.e., yes or no)
from grades 9 through 12.
Association Between Self-Reported Problem Solving Skills
and Frequency of Strategic and Fast-Paced Video Game
Play in Grades 11 and 12
This model involved a 2-wave autoregressive cross-lagged
path analysis in which bidirectional paths were estimated
Table 1 Means and standard deviations of study measures and demographic variables
Variable Scale Range Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11 Grade 12
M (SD) M (SD) (SD) M (SD)
Gender 1–2 50.8 % female
Parental Education 1–6 3.27 (1.03)
Number of computers in home 3.09 (0.91)
Self-reported problem solving 1–5 3.36 (0.94) 3.31 (0.93) 3.25 (0.95) 3.38 (0.97)
Academic grades 1–5 3.40 (0.87) 3.42 (0.89) 3.45 (0.91) 3.57 (0.85)
Sustained strategic vg play 0–1 .33 (0.37)
Sustained fast-paced vg play 0–1 .51 (0.39)
Strategic vg play 1–2 1.21 (0.34) 1.20 (0.34) 1.43 (0.41) 1.46 (0.39)
Fast-paced vg play 1–2 1.33 (0.37) 1.29 (0.35) 1.49 (0.38) 1.48 (0.38)
Frequency of strategic vg play 1–5 n/a n/a 1.80 (0.97) 1.88 (1.01)
Frequency of fast-paced vg play 1–5 n/a n/a 1.84 (0.87) 1.83 (0.87)
vg video game; Strategic and fast-paced video game play were measured as 1do no play, 2play
1046 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
123
between frequency of strategic video game play and self-
reported problem solving skills, and between frequency of
fast-paced video game play and self-reported problem
solving skills (see Fig. 2). Stability paths across grade
within each variable also were specified, as well as
covariances among the variables within each grade. Model
fit was excellent, v
2
(2) =.67, p[.05, CFI =1.00,
RMSEA =.00 (.00–.037). Frequency of playing strategic
video games in grade 11 significantly predicted self-
reported problem solving skills in grade 12, b=.17, 95 %
CI [.04, .30], p\.05, after controlling for stability of self-
reported problem solving skills, such that higher frequency
of playing of strategic video games in grade 11 predicted
higher self-reported problem solving skills in grade 12. In
contrast, frequency of playing fast-paced video games in
grade 11 did not significantly predict self-reported problem
solving skills in grade 12, after controlling for stability of
self-reported problem solving skills, b=-.05, 95 % CI
[-.19, .09], p[.05. Self-reported problem solving skills
in grade 11 also did not significantly predict greater fre-
quency of strategic or fast-paced video game play over
time ps[.05. Therefore, a cognitive training effect was
uniquely supported for strategic, but not fast-paced video
game play, and no support was found for a selection effect.
Association Between Self-Reported Problem Solving Skills
and Strategic Video Game Play, and the Indirect
Association Between Strategic Video Game Play
and Academic Grades, from Grades 9 Through 12
This model involved a 4-wave (grade 9–12) autoregressive
cross-lagged path analysis in which bidirectional paths
were estimated across each adjacent grade between both
strategic and fast-paced video game play (yes/no) and self-
reported problem solving skills, as well as academic
grades, and between self-reported problem solving skills
and academic grades (see Fig. 3). We used dichotomous
measures (yes/no) of strategic and fast-paced video game
play because we did not have frequency measures in all
four waves. Stability paths across grade within each vari-
able also were specified, as well as covariances among the
variables within each grade in order to control for common
method variance.
We first assessed whether the pattern of results was
invariant across grade. Invariance was tested by comparing a
model in which all cross-lagged paths were constrained to be
equal across grade to the unconstrained model in which all
structural paths were free to vary. The Chi square difference
test of relative fit indicated that the unconstrained model was
Problem solving
9
Problem solving
10
Problem solving
11
Problem solving
12
Problem Solving
Intercept
Problem Solving
Slope
Sustained Strategic
Video Game
Play 9 to12
Sustained Fast-Paced
Video Game
Pla
y
9 to 12
11
1
1
0
123
-.14
Gender
Parental Education
#Computers in Home
Fig. 1 Final model results for analysis assessing the long-term
association between sustained strategic video game play and self-
reported problem solving. 9 =grade 9; 10 =grade10; 11 =grade
11; 12 =grade 12. Covariates are indicated with dashed lines. Note
that the direction of effects between sustained strategic video game
play and problem solving can not be ascertained in this model as
sustained strategic video game play is not clearly occurring before
changes over time in problem solving. Not shown are paths from
control variables to slopes of problem solving; covariancesamong
exogenous variables, and intercepts. Standardized coefficients (95 %
confidence intervals are in brackets) are reported. *\.05. Results for
covariates and covariancescan be obtained from the first author
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052 1047
123
not a significant better fit than the constrained model, sug-
gesting that the patterns of associations among the measures
were consistent across the high school years, p[.05. As the
constrained model was the most parsimonious model, all
further interpretations were based on the constrained model.
Model fit was good, v
2
(62) =117.53 p\.001, CFI =.99,
RMSEA =.025 (.018–.031). Figure 2summarizes the sig-
nificant path estimates. Consistent with a cognitive training
effect, playing strategic video games significantly predicted
higher self-reported problem solving skills over time
(b=.09, 95 % CI [.05, .13], p\.001), after controlling for
stability of self-reported problem solving skills. In contrast,
playing fast-paced video games did not significantly predict
self-reported problem solving skills over time (b=-.01,
95 % CI [-.06, .04], p[.05), after controlling for stability
of self-reported problem solving skills. No support was
found for a selection effect, as self-reported problem solving
skills significantly predicted less strategic video game play
(b=-.04, 95 % CI [-.07, -.001], p\.05), after con-
trolling for stability of strategic video game play.
Consistent with past research (D’Zurilla and Sheedy
1992), self-reported problem solving skills significantly
predicted higher academic grades over time (b=.07,
95 % CI [.04, .10], p\.001), after controlling for stability
of academic grades. Academic grades also predicted self-
reported problem solving skills (b=.10, 95 % CI [.06,
.14], p\.001), after controlling for stability of self-
reported problem solving skills. Strategy and fast-paced
video game play, however, did not directly predict aca-
demic grades, ps[.05. Given the significant direct effect
between strategy video game play and self-reported prob-
lem solving, and between self-reported problem solving
and academic grades, we assessed the indirect effect
between strategic video game play and academic grades
through self-reported problem solving. Using bias-
corrected bootstrapping (bootstrap samples =1,000), we
found a significant indirect effect, b=.05, 95 % CI [.01,
.06], p\.01. Thus, the results provide support for an
indirect mediation model (MacKinnon et al. 2007; Zhao
et al. 2010) in which playing strategic video games
Problem Solving 11
Frequency of Strategic
Video Game Play 11
Gender
Parental Education
#Computers in Home
Frequency of Fast-Paced
Video Game Play 11
Problem Solving 12
Frequency of Strategic
Video Game Play 12
Frequency of Fast-Paced
Video Game Play 12
Fig. 2 Final model results for analysis assessing cognitive training vs
selection effects with frequency of strategic video game play in
grades 11 and 12. 11 = grade 11; 12 = grade 12. Covariates are
indicated with dashed lines. Not shown are covariancesamong
variables within each grade, or paths related to covariates. Standard-
ized coefficients (95 % confidence intervals are in brackets) are
reported. *\.05. Results for covariates, covariances, and stability
paths can be obtained from the first author
1048 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
123
predicted higher self-reported problem solving skills, and
in turn, higher self-reported problem solving skills pre-
dicted higher academic grades.
Gender as a Moderator
Gender also was included as a moderator in each analysis
and there were no significant differences in the pattern of
findings as a function of gender (ps[.05 in v
diff
2
tests
between constrained and unconstrained models).
Discussion
Although researchers recently have demonstrated that
video games are an effective tool for training a variety of
cognitive skills such as executive control functions as well
as several visual and attentional skills (e.g., Basak et al.
2008; Green and Bavelier 2006), no researchers have
examined the link between strategic video game play and
problem solving skills. It is especially important to exam-
ine this association among adolescents, because the exec-
utive function of inhibitory control is still developing
during adolescence (Kuhn 2009), and activities that
encourage players to stop and consider different strategies
when faced with a problem, instead of simply using the first
strategy that comes to mind, are critical during this stage of
development. In addition, to our knowledge no longitudinal
studies exist in which researchers have examined the
bidirectional relationship between video game play and
cognitive skills (i.e., cognitive training versus selection
effects). Thus, using a 4-wave dataset of adolescents, we
investigated the longitudinal association between strategic
and fast-paced video game play and self-reported problem
solving skills. In addition, we tested the hypothesis that
strategic video game play may indirectly predict academic
grades through self-reported problem solving skills.
The current study is the first to discover a relationship
between strategic (but not fast-paced) video game play and
self-reported problem solving skills, and to demonstrate
this relationship longitudinally. We also demonstrated a
positive indirect relationship between strategic video game
play and academic grades. The first analysis revealed that
adolescents who played strategic video games across many
years of high school also reported steeper increases in self-
reported problem solving skills over time compared to
participants who reported less sustained play. Next, we
found support for cognitive training effects in that greater
frequency of strategic video game play in grade 11 pre-
dicted greater self-reported problem solving skills in grade
Problem Solving 9
Strategic Video
Game Play 9
Gender
Parental Education
#Computers in Home
Fast-Paced Video
Game Play 9
Problem Solving 10
Strategic Video
Game Play 10
Fast-Paced Video
Game Play 10
Problem Solving 11 Problem Solving 12
Strategic Video
Game Play 11
Strategic Video
Game Play 12
Fast-Paced Video
Game Play 11
Fast-Paced Video
Game Play 12
Academic Marks
9
Academic Marks
10
Academic Marks
11
Academic Marks
12
.09 ***[.05, .13] .10 ***[.05, .15]
.07 ***[.04, .10].06 ***[.03, .09]
.
.07 ***[.04, .10]
.09 ***[.05, .13]
- .04 *[ - .07, - .001] -.04 *[ - .07, - .001] -. 04 *[ - .07, - .001]
.10 ***[.06, .14] .10 ***[.06, .14] .10 ***[.06, .14]
Fig. 3 Final model results for analysis assessing cognitive training vs
selection effects with dichotomous measure of strategic video game
play and indirect association between strategic video game play and
academic grades. Strategic and fast-paced video game play were
measured as 1 = do no play; 2 = play; 9 = grade 9; 10 = grade 10; 11 =
grade 11; 12 = grade 12. Covariates are indicated with dashed lines.
Only significant paths are shown. Cross-lagged paths of greatest
interest are bolded. Not shown are covariancesamong variables within
each grade, or paths related to covariates. Standardized coefficients
(95 % confidence intervals are in brackets) are reported for significant
paths. ***\.001, **\.01, *\.05. Results for covariates, covariances,
and stability paths, can be obtained from the first author
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052 1049
123
12, after controlling for previous levels of self-reported
problem solving skills. In addition, playing strategic video
games (but not fast-paced video games) predicted greater
self-reported problem solving skills across the four high
school years, after controlling for previous levels of self-
reported problem solving skills. In contrast, no support was
found for a selection effect, as self-reported problem
solving skills in an earlier grade predicted less playing of
strategic video games in a later grade. Perhaps adolescents
who have higher problem solving skills are more likely to
focus on academic achievement instead of playing video
games. Specifically, adolescents who have higher problem
solving skills may self-select into academic activities to a
greater extent than those who have lower problem solving
skills, and thus may have less time to play video games.
More research on this relationship is needed to elucidate
why higher problem solving skills predicts less playing of
strategic video games over time.
Finally, we found support for an indirect relationship
between strategic video game play and academic grades.
Specifically, strategic video game play predicted higher self-
reported problem solving skills after controlling for previous
levels of self-reported problem solving skills, and in turn,
higher self-reported problem solving skills predicted higher
academic grades after controlling for previous academic
grades. This finding is unique, as longitudinal research to
date has been focused mainly on whether video game play
might lower academic performance. Overall, these findings
suggest that over the four high school years, playing strategic
video games may enhance adolescents’ self-reported prob-
lem solving skills, which in turn may help adolescents per-
form better in school. In addition, academic grades also
predicted self-reported problem solving skills over time,
which suggests that people who have higher grades tend to
have higher self-reported problem solving skills than their
peers at a later time point. Furthermore, this finding suggests
that participants may learn or develop problem solving skills
at school.
Results also support our hypothesis that a unique rela-
tionship exists between strategic video game play and self-
reported problem solving skills, as fast-paced video game
play was not related to self-reported problem solving skills
in any of the analyses. Specifically, strategic video games
often involve gaining information and thinking of a strat-
egy before trying to solve a problem, which may enhance
players’ problem solving skills. In contrast, fast-paced
video games encourage immediate action while providing
little to no opportunity to stop and think of a strategy.
Examining strategic and fast-paced video game play sep-
arately is necessary in determining whether strategic video
games are uniquely related to problem solving skills, and is
a major strength of the present study. Importantly, gender
did not moderate the results, suggesting that the pattern of
results among strategic video game play, self-reported
problem solving skills, and academic grades did not differ
between boys and girls.
The current findings have important implications for
educators. Specifically, strategic video game play may
predict higher problem solving skills because video games
possess good learning principles (Gee 2005; Green and
Bavelier 2008). For instance, the level of difficulty in
almost all video games increases throughout the games in
small incremental steps, so that players do not advance to
the next level of difficulty too early—but only once they
have developed the skills necessary to complete the current
level. Video games, therefore, involve individualized skill
development, which likely leads to enhanced motivation
(Green and Bavelier 2008). In contrast, this high level of
individualized skill development is more difficult to rep-
licate in the average classroom where there often are more
than 30 students per class, potentially contributing to the
finding that many adolescents report feeling bored and
unmotivated in school (Larson 2000). As we have shown,
mainstream ‘‘popular’’ video games that involve problem
solving are associated with increased self-reported problem
solving skills, and thus educational video game developers
(i.e., video games created specifically for educational
purposes) should focus more on including problem solving
tasks in educational games.
The present study is not without limitations. For example,
one limitation was that our measure of sustained strategic
and fast-paced video game play was not clearly occurring
prior to changes over time in self-reported problem solving
skills, limiting our ability to assess the direction of effects
between these variables. Our auto-regressive cross-lagged
models, however, directly tested the direction of effects.
Another important limitation stems from the reliance on self-
report measures. Although we specified covariances among
all of the variables within each time period in all models, thus
accounting for common method variance, reports of video
game use would benefit from corroboration from other
informants (e.g., friends, parents). It is not clear, however,
whether anyone other than the adolescent can provide an
accurate assessment of their video game use given that much
of the activity may be conducted alone. It also may be ben-
eficial for future studies to include objective measures of
problem solving skills or academic performance. For
example, in the current study it may be that playing strategic
video games predicted participants’ perceptions of their
problem solving skills, but not their actual objective solving
skills. Also, the structural paths that were significant in the
present study were all small in magnitude. However, these
effect sizes are common in longitudinal cross-lagged models
when accounting for stability between adjacent waves of
data and for concurrent associations among variables at each
grade. Finally, although the participants in the present study
1050 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
123
included a large sample of enrolled students from a school
distinct, findings may not generalize to other geographic
regions, including those with differing ethnic and/or demo-
graphic populations.
In the future, researchers should continue to investigate
the relationship between strategic video game play and
problem solving skills, especially with experimental designs
to directly test causation. However, considering that problem
solving develops slowly with repetitive practice, it may be
difficult to demonstrate short-term effects of strategic video
game play on problem solving in the laboratory. Thus, a
randomized and controlled study that spans several months,
such as in Weis and Cerankosky (2010), may be more
informative than a short-term experiment. In addition,
although the measure of strategic video game play in the
current study included measures of playing different genres
of games (i.e., role playing and strategy), we did not examine
the predictive effect of specific video games. For example,
perhaps role playing or strategy games that involve more
problem solving have stronger predictive effects on problem
solving skills than role playing games or strategy games that
involve less problem solving. Future research should be
focused on identifying which strategic games are most
strongly linked to problem solving skills.
In summary, this was the first study to demonstrate a
cognitive training effect of strategic video games on self-
reported problem solving skills, in that playing strategic
video games predicted higher self-reported problem solving
skills across the four high school years. Furthermore, we
found evidence for an indirect positive relationship between
strategic video game play and academic grades. These
results, and the fact that millions of adolescents enjoy play-
ing strategic video games for several hours every day (e.g.,
Lenhart et al. 2008), underscores the need for psychologists
to continue to investigate the relationship between strategic
video game play and problem solving skills.
Acknowledgments We would like to thank Luke Doner for his
assistance in providing information regarding strategic video game
play. Teena Willoughby acknowledges funding received from the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the
Owl Children’s Trust.
Author’s Contributions PA conceived the study, conducted most
of the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript. TW collected
the data and participated in the statistical analyses as well as the
drafting of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final
manuscript.
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Author Biographies
Paul J. C. Adachi received his MA degree in psychology from Brock
University and is currently a PhD candidate. In terms of research,
Paul is interested in the positive and negative effects of video games
on adolescent development. He has conducted research examining the
relation between video game competition and aggression, and is
currently investigating the relation between video game play and
cooperation.
Teena Willoughby is a professor in the Department of Psychology at
Brock University. She her received her PhD in psychology from
Waterloo University. Her research interest is in adolescent develop-
ment, particularly with regard to risk taking, academic achievement,
and media use (e.g., video game play).
1052 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:1041–1052
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Students' out‐of‐school science participation has been identified as a factor that supports adaptive science outcomes. Researchers have largely investigated students' out‐of‐school science participation in terms of structured science activities (e.g., attending a science camp), with far less consideration of how students' involvement in unstructured out‐of‐school science activities (e.g., using at‐home science kits) may also be associated with students' aspirations and achievement in science. Research in this area has established a conceptual framework by which activities can be categorized by the activity's level of interaction (i.e., whether receptive or active). Although this conceptual framework is useful to understand the types of unstructured activities in which students engage, this research has tended to overlook the fact that students often participate in more than one out‐of‐school unstructured activity. The present investigation addressed this dearth of research by examining the extent to which different typologies of student participation in out‐of‐school receptive and active unstructured activities existed. The study also examined if these profiles were uniquely associated with students' aspirations and achievement in science above and beyond the effects of their current level of in‐school participation. The study employed a latent class analysis of N = 996 Australian high school students (40.60% girls) from six schools serving predominately above average socioeconomic status Australian high school students. Four distinct profiles of out‐of‐school participation in unstructured activities were found: Optimal, Receptive, Active, and Minimal Out‐of‐School Participation (OSP). The Optimal OSP and Receptive OSP profiles were associated with the higher aspirations (beyond students' in‐school participation), and both were significantly higher than the Active OSP and Minimal OSP profiles. Students' in‐school participation was most strongly associated with students' achievement. These findings suggest that encouraging students' participation in unstructured activities, especially receptive unstructured activities, and their in‐school participation may be viable avenues by which to improve students' science aspirations and achievement.
... Regarding academic achievement, while the literature specifically addressing different orientations of digital engagement is scarce, it seems that the use of social media is positively related to literacy grades and negatively to a grade point average (e.g., Liu, Kirschner & Karpinski, 2017). Overall, gaming activity appears to have a negligibly small negative effect on general academic performance (Ferguson, 2015), although strategy-type gaming appears to be indirectly related to better academic performance through increased problem-solving skills (Adachi & Willoughby, 2013). ...
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The years of adolescence form a crucial period in students’ academic path, as it is during these years that the maladaptive or adaptive academic pathways begin to diverge. Simultaneously, the unsupervised engagement with digital media begins a sharp increase during these years. The dynamics between these have been a recent topic of concern – does engagement with digital media contribute to maladaptive academic pathways? By applying the demands-resources framework we examined the longitudinal within-person relations among social media networking and gaming orientations, school burnout, and academic performance from 7th to 9th grade (age 13 to 16). The participants were 1,834 (41% male) Finnish students. The data were analyzed using multiple-indicator random-intercept cross-lagged panel models. The results indicated that when students showed elevated social media networking orientation, they showed increased school burnout later in adolescence, and vice versa. Further, both elevated burnout and poorer academic performance predicted increased gaming orientation. Controversially, poorer academic functioning appeared to predict increased digital engagement.
... Most commonly, these included novel use of materials and interactions [26,50]. Longitudinal studies indicated that integrating digital game-based tools increased children's creative skills and attitudes [10,36,37,49], and can lead to both self-reported [1] and empirical [13] increases in problem solving skills. Play-based activities are effective mechanisms for exploring new concepts due to their high entertainment value, which keeps children engaged. ...
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There are several obstacles that conventional education institutions face in today’s information age to improving students’ learning. Technology may be the catalyst for educational transformation by providing unique potential for constructing successful learning environments. Innovative teaching practices can be developed and implemented using digital games as a technology enabler. Learners acquire and create knowledge through game-based learning in a pleasant and focused learning environment. Therefore, Digital games are used to teach students about a particular subject. However, only a few researchers have explored the effect of these strategies on the development of higher-order cognitive skills and emotional and motivational outcomes. As a result of the lack of any adequate evaluation methods based on gaming, more research into the educational benefits of digital games is required. Therefore, this article provides an overview of digital game-based learning, emphasising its use in higher education, such as in colleges and universities. In conclusion, integrating the digital game into conventional pedagogy in higher education improves students’ learning outcomes. The secondary literature has been used to compile the findings for this research.
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