Cognitive Daily

There has been a great deal of reporting about the harmful impact of video games, including here at Cognitive Daily. Yet the simple act of playing a video game can require learning a great deal of information. We have discussed studies showing impressive perceptual gains after just a short time playing a game. Children are highly motivated to play video games (in fact, at times, it’s difficult to get them to do anything else).

Yet, perhaps because of the perceived negative impact, there has been surprisingly little research on how to use games for teaching. One exception to this was a study conducted in Chile in 2002.


A team of researchers led by Ricardo Rosas (see comments for full citation) studied the effects of integrating handheld video games into the first- and second-grade curriculum for 30 minutes a day. Their study was unique because they designed a teaching game with features similar to commercial video games. In a typical video game, the player must perform several tasks in order to reach a goal. As the game progresses, the tasks get more and more challenging. Players are highly motivated to learn the new tasks because it helps them reach the game’s ultimate goal.

Rosas et al. realized that in order for students to be motivated to play the games, the “goal” of the game can’t be something like “learn to read one-syllable words.” Instead, they designed games with goals like “saving the fairies imprisoned in the temples of the city.” From the child’s perspective, it just happened that in order to save the fairies, one of things you had to learn was how to read one-syllable words, such as “sol” for “sun.”


Rosas and his colleagues make a distinction between the software they create and “edutainment,” citing Henry Jenkins of MIT, who claims that “most existing edutainment products combine the entertainment value of a bad lecture with the educational value of a bad game.”

To assess the effectiveness of the games, they studied 1,274 students in distressed schools in Chile. The main group of 758 students was allowed to use the games for 30 minutes per day for a 12-week study period. A second group of 347 students from the same schools was taught the same curriculum without the games, but were aware that their friends got to play video games in class. The final group of 169 students was from separate schools, and did not know about the video game experiment, but was taught the same curriculum.

Each group was given a pre- and post-test to assess learning in reading comprehension, spelling, and math—the curriculum areas which the games were designed to enhance. The researchers found that the video game group performed substantially better than the external group of students in all areas tested. However, the group of students that was aware of the video game program but not allowed to participate performed equally well.

Rosas et al. suspect this result is due to the Hawthorne Effect, first observed in industrial research at General Electric’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago in the 1920’s. Workers tended to be more productive simply because they were being observed, which made it difficult for researchers to identify management techniques that would actually enhance productivity. Since the students were aware of the study being conducted in their school, all of them improved, even though not everyone got to use the video games.

Despite this effect, the researchers noted results which were different even for the same-school students. The children who played video games were more motivated, more likely to pay attention in class, and substantially less likely to be disruptive. Teachers, even those who were initially skeptical of the program, recognized significant improvements in the classroom, and asked to be able to continue using the games in all their classrooms.


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    April 20, 2005

    Full citation: Ricardo Rosas, Miguel Nussbaum, Patricio Cumsille, Vladimir Marianov, Mónica Correa, Patricia Flores, Valeska Grau, Francesca Lagos, Ximena López, Verónica López, Patricio Rodriguez, and Marcela Salinas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, “Beyond Nintendo: Design and Assessment of Educational Video Games for First and Second Grade Students,” Computers and Education, 2003.

  2. […] o knew?) Courtesy of today’s Cognitive Daily comes a very interesting write up of a Chilean study about using videogames in the classroom. I’m certainly interested in using games to stimulate […]

  3. #3 Brian
    April 20, 2005

    Excellent research. Oh to be a kid again!

  4. #4 SFist
    April 22, 2005

    They’re Thinking Of The Children (Just Not Thinking Very Hard)

    We don’t mean to ALARM you … but it’s possible that President Kennedy is in VERY GRAVE DANGER. Although similar recent efforts have mostly failed, our very own Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Leland Yee is pushing a bill—AB 450—that would fine reta…

  5. #5 Jesse Cravens
    April 29, 2005

    Great article! I am a teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. I use XBOX as a positive reinforcer for appropriate behaviors. We also use 8 player capture the flag to promote the development of social skills, increased self image, and to foster teamwork. It provides a very effective opportunity for incidental teaching.

  6. […] from movies, from video games. They will have to be more than edutainment, which has been said to “combine the entertainment value of a bad lecture with the educational value of a bad game.” […]

  7. #7 sandeep dixit
    May 7, 2005

    Interesting information. Could you please guide me to some free online content on the rules/issues related to the timings and durations of the scenes in an educational video and their impact on learning-are their any quantitative reports giving such imapct?

  8. […] ning, Attention — Dave Munger @ 2:30 pm We know that video games can help us learn, but what exactly is it about the games that does it? Is it that fact that we’re in control — f […]

  9. #9 Martin Vögeli
    June 9, 2005

    I’ve collected some articles about this topic. Just click on my name and you’re there 馃槈

  10. #10 J.D.
    June 27, 2005

    I’m not convinced by this study at all. Why is it really that the group that didn’t play the games, but knew about it fared “equally well”? They write it off to this thing called the ‘Hawthorne Effect’. Could it be that the fact that they were paid more attention to had an effect on them? Could it be that the teachers at the “outside schools” were not as good? There seem to be too many variables for this to be solid research.

    Furthermore, do playing video games lead to better reasoning and logic, and provide them with real situations for critical thinking? What are kids really learning from video games? Does anyone really know what is it about the games that is teaching them anything? And what did they learn? How to “save fairies imprisoned in the temples of the city”? Most video games are based on illogical patterns, hidden assumptions, many of which and oversimplified if not highly questionable, and don’t further real and critical thinking. Sure they may learn to read 1 syllable words, but at the cost of teaching them to note and remember illogical patterns and strange rules. Is this what we should increasingly expose our children to?

    Must we entertain our children in order to educate them? What happens when the real world doesn’t seem to live up to the fast action and instant gratification of the video game. Sure they can read one-syllable words, but can they maintain sustained thoughts? Not become bored or umotivated when a task requires long, persistent and sustained action and attention? As computers and video games grab their attention without requiring the child to direct it themselves, how useful is a video game when it slackens overall mental acuity rather than sharpening it? Does it actually help them to think for themselves, to cultivate mental persistence? Does it actually help with memorization, pondering and developing real wonder?

    I hesitate to think that people get so easily sucked into agreeing with studies about the benefits of video games, TV or computers. A child’s brain and body was not designed to sit and watch flickering images on a TV or computer screen. It was designed to move, work (like a muscle) and learn from real teachers and real experience. Not inanimate boxes programmed by someone with lots of knowledge of the machine and little real wisdom.

    — Joshua

  11. […] pm Every few weeks, a comment pops up on the Cognitive Daily Post I wrote back in April. The post reported on a Chilean study indicating some positive results using Game Boys to teach basic readi […]

  12. […] oces wordt er authentieker, speelser, plezanter, uitdagender en vooral beter door (zie bvb hier of hier (al in 2001!) of hier ). Onze Noordnederlandse collega Mar […]

  13. […] Desalniettemin merk ik op hoeveel extra mogelijkheden docenten krijgen om spelvormen in hun onderwijs te integreren. Het leerproces wordt er authentieker, speelser, plezanter, uitdagender en vooral beter door (zie bvb hier of hier (al in 2001!) of hier ). […]

  14. #14 jillyjilll
    November 3, 2005

    I am writing a collaboritive research essay on the effects video games have on childrens academics. Untill yours, I have not found alot of information on academically based video games. I have only found information on violent video games. Thank you for sharing. I will surely put your information to good use.

  15. #15 Dave Munger
    November 4, 2005


    you might want to check out this article on “serious” video games. It’s not a scholarly publication, but it does talk about some of the more practical uses of video games.

  16. #16 stuart coles
    December 19, 2005

    I’m in 8th grade,and i just wanted to know, does the rating of the video game effect your intelligence too?

  17. #17 Josh and Cam
    January 6, 2006

    Hey we are in 8th grade as well and im wondering if the actuall playing of video games effects your intellegence as far as we’ve reaserched it seems to point both ways.

  18. #18 Dave Munger
    January 6, 2006

    Josh and Cam,

    I suspect it depends on the game. Some games really exercise your mind, but others, not so much. But, as we’ve pointed out here on Cognitive Daily, even if it turns out that most modern games do improve IQ, high IQ is not the most important factor in academic success, nor is it necessarily going to get you a better job or help you make more money when you’re older.

    For an interesting layperson’s take on IQ and video games, check out the book Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson.

New comments have been disabled.