Barbara Boughton

May 21, 2009

May 20, 2009 (San Francisco, California) — If performed under carefully controlled conditions, playing video games may help improve concentration in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a small study presented here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 162nd Annual Meeting.

In the study of 10 patients, playing the video game Gran Turismo, an automobile-racing game, increased electroencephalograph (EEG)-measured beta waves, which are often associated with concentration. Parents and teachers of the children also indicated improvements in behavior after 10 regular sessions of video games.

"We wanted to supply an alternative way to treat children, rather than just using stimulants,” Bhupendra Gupta, MD, from Sullivan University, in Louisville, Kentucky, told Medscape Psychiatry. "As well as documenting improved concentration with EEG, we also found that the children showed substantial improvements in behaviors at school and home and were more compliant with their medications," he added.

The children were treated for 10 to 15 sessions every 2 weeks for 6 months, according to Dr. Gupta. During the video gaming sessions, the children wore a virtual helmet that held EEG sensors. EEG data were plotted and quantified for 15 minutes per session and analyzed statistically. Results showed that theta waves decreased and beta waves increased during the gaming sessions.

Compliance Also Improved

At baseline and after 10 sessions, parents and teachers of the children also completed the Connors Behavior Rating Scale. At baseline, the children scored a mean of 26.2, but after 10 sessions of video games, the children's scores decreased to a mean of 9.2. Parents indicated there were significant improvements in homework habits as well as school grades.

"These studies suggest that video games can have implications in improving ADHD in children and adults," the researchers concluded. "Video games can be an effective method for behavior modification in children with ADHD. This method can [also] provide a noninvasive method of improving concentration in the workplace for pilots and troops."

Dr. Gupta noted that playing video games motivated the children with ADHD to come for treatment, and their compliance with their medication regimens thus improved.

"Having ADHD is a stigma for kids, and so the concept was to make treatment fun for them — not to make them feel they have to go to a physician to get medication or an injection," he said.

Interpret with Caution

However, experts at the meeting noted that the results of the study should be interpreted with caution. One reason is the study's small sample size. Another problem is that video gaming is known to lead to addiction. "It can be like any other behavioral addiction or obsessive activity," said Michael Brody, MD, a fellow of the APA and the author of the book Messages: Self Help Through Popular Culture.

"Yet if it helps kids focus and is done in a balanced way — for instance, once a week for an hour or several hours — that's fine,” Dr. Brody added. “Unfortunately, video games are often violent, and they can lead children to addiction. Children playing these games may not pay attention to anything else."

"You can't really make a blanket statement that video games will improve concentration," he said. "But any activity that gets people off the couch — as long as it's balanced — can be a good idea."

Dr. Gupta and Dr. Brody disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2009 Annual Meeting: Abstract NR2-022. Presented May 18, 2009.

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