New study links video gaming to creativity

A study of 500 12-year-olds suggests that the more kids play video games--violent or not--the more creatively they draw pictures and write stories.

For those who like to play video games, or who let their kids play, a new study linking gaming to creativity in 12-year-olds may be very validating.

It reminds me of the little flutter in my chest that occurs every time I read about the health benefits of dark chocolate. Or perhaps that flutter is due to how quickly I race to the chocolate stash in my pantry.

Are kids who play video games more creative? aperturismo/Flickr

But I digress. The research out of Michigan State University, published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggests that of the 491 12-year-olds studied, the ones who play video games tend to be more creative, regardless of whether those games are violent--and that the more they play, the more creative they are.

Head researcher and psychology professor Linda Jackson says these findings should encourage game designers to investigate which aspects of gaming are more responsible for this creative effect.

"Once they do that, video games can be designed to optimize the development of creativity while retaining their entertainment values such that a new generation of video games will blur the distinction between education and entertainment," she says in a news release.

But before we exchange those dusty books for Portal 2 (I drool over this game almost as much as that dark chocolate), a few aspects of the study are worth considering further.

First, there is the issue of how one goes about measuring creativity. Jackson suggests this study provides the first evidence-based demonstration of a relationship between technology use and creativity. Measuring technology use was easy. To measure creativity, her team relied on the "widely-used" Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which involved having the kids perform various tasks, such as drawing pictures from a curved shape and then naming and writing stories about those pictures.

Some of the resulting work was labeled "interesting and exciting," while other work was, well, not. So what does this tell us? That kids who play video games meet one set of criteria for creativity more than kids who don't.

Even if creativity is an objective quality, this one measure for it might not sufficiently determine one's overall creativity, and risks ignoring other types of creativity altogether. (i.e., one kid might be able to draw creatively, while another can make up new songs creatively, so only measuring the drawing could result in missing other forms of creativity.)

And then there is the issue of what is being compared. Instead of measuring one type of activity against another, this study measures one type against the absence of it, leaving a lot of room for variables. Are the kids who don't play video games watching TV? How would the video game cohort compare to kids building their own puzzles, or making mud pies, or drawing pictures from a curved shape and then naming and writing stories about those pictures?

This study may be the first of many to come. For now, I'll continue enjoying Portal and chocolate, possibly at the same time, with the added pleasure of knowing that I might possibly be maximizing my creativity. Of course, whether it's working will depend upon whom you ask.

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