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Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008

Media and Attention, Cognition, and School Achievement
Marie Evans Schmidt Elizabeth A. Vandewater

Summary

Marie Evans Schmidt and Elizabeth Vandewater review research on links between various types of electronic media and the cognitive skills of school-aged children and adolescents. One central finding of studies to date, they say, is that the content delivered by electronic media is far more influential than the media themselves.

Most studies, they point out, find a small negative link between the total hours a child spends viewing TV and that child's academic achievement. But when researchers take into account characteristics of the child, such as IQ or socioeconomic status, this link typically disappears. Content appears to be crucial. Viewing educational TV is linked positively with academic achievement; viewing entertainment TV is linked negatively with achievement.

When it comes to particular cognitive skills, say the authors, researchers have found that electronic media, particularly video games, can enhance visual spatial skills, such as visual tracking, mental rotation, and target localization. Gaming may also improve problem-solving skills.

Researchers have yet to understand fully the issue of transfer of learning from electronic media. Studies suggest that, under some circumstances, young people are able to transfer what they learn from electronic media to other applications, but analysts are uncertain how such transfer occurs.

In response to growing public concern about possible links between electronic media use and attention problems in children and adolescents, say the authors, researchers have found evidence for small positive links between heavy electronic media use and mild attention problems among young people but have found only inconsistent evidence so far for a link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and media use.

The authors point out that although video games, interactive websites, and multimedia software programs appear to offer a variety of possible benefits for learning, there is as yet little empirical evidence to suggest that such media are more effective than other forms of instruction.