State of the Art: Newer Forms of Media (page 3)
New forms of media are constantly emerging, and their developers target many of these products specifically toward children. Research has given us some understanding of the effects of some of these media, such as video games and Internet use. On others, such as virtual reality systems, we have practically no data yet.
Video Games and Computer Games
Video games (e.g., Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox) are most popular with boys about 8 to 12 years old. Even boys in this age bracket spend less time playing such games than you might expect, with most (79%) playing less than 1 hour per day. As you probably know, the majority of video games are fast-paced, visually based games that demand close attention and fast reactions. In the short term these games improve a variety of skills, including spatial skills (e.g., anticipating and predicting where targets will appear on the screen), the ability to interpret visual images like pictures and diagrams, response times to visual targets, and strategies for keeping track of things happening at several different screen locations (Huston & Wright, 1998; Subrahmanyam, Kraut, Greenfield, & Gross, 2001). Long-term effects and the transfer of these skills to other contexts aren't clear yet. Some correlational research indicates that more time spent using videogames is associated with lower grades and lower SAT scores, but experimental studies that would address a cause-effect relationship are lacking (Anand, 2007).
The majority of video games involve at least some aggression and violence. Though this was not true when video games were introduced in the 1970s, the amount and severity of aggression (particularly of direct "human" aggression) has increased with each game generation. Experimental studies indicate that playing a violent video game for even a brief time increases aggressive thoughts and behavior. A recent meta-analysis of 35 research reports found a small but significant effect of video game violence on players' aggressive behavior, thoughts, feelings, and physiological arousal (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). The effects were similar in males and females, in children and adults, and in experimental and nonexperimental studies. Children who play video games are just as socially involved with peers as those who don't play, but little is known about the social impact of heavy game playing (more than 30 hours per week) on either short-term or long-term outcomes (Subrahmanyam et al., 2001).
Computer software games, CDs, and other interactive media are typically more education oriented than video games. They often require more conceptual, logical, and cognitive strategy skills and less fast physical response. These programs can successfully introduce even very young children to computers. They can help teach basic concepts in reading and math; and they can help build children's divergent thinking skills, confidence, and enjoyment in using computers. They also can prompt students to think about the cognitive strategies they are using as well as learn how to organize their thinking and to make use of feedback (Huston & Wright, 1998; Wartella, Caplovitz, & Lee, 2004). Interactive designs do not guarantee benefits to learning, however. Some studies find that the interactive aspects of media such as talking books may distract young children from attending to the text, so developers need to pay careful attention to the features they include (deJong & Bus, 2002).
Children's access to the Internet is increasing at breakneck speed, but we are only beginning to understand the effects on children of spending time on line. More than 80% of 12 to 18 year olds go on line, and half do so every day (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005). Many use the Internet for schoolwork, but the most frequent reason for logging on is to communicate with friends (both friends they already knew and new friends they "met" on line) via instant messaging, e-mail, and chat rooms (Gross, 2004; Kraut et al., 1996). Much of the research to date has focused on online social interactions, and this has looked almost exclusively at adolescents. As more and more preteens log on, researchers will need to study whether the impact of the Internet is different for older versus younger users. Depending on how young people use the Internet, working on line certainly could affect cognitive skills such as problem-solving ability and information-search skills, but no studies have yet explored such effects.
Ironically, some earlier studies found that greater use of the Internet by teens was associated with decreased face- to- face social involvement, greater loneliness, and increases in depression (Kraut et al., 1996). The social compensation hypothesis suggests that teens who are lonely and have few friends to begin with are more likely to choose Internet over face- to- face involvement, substituting online activity for social interactions (Subrahmanyam et al., 2001). But more recent studies have found that the majority of adolescents (88% in one study) communicate for the most part with people they already know and are friends with, serving to strengthen the closeness of their friendships—called the rich-get-richer hypothesis (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). Whom a teen interacts with and the particular Web sites visited are clearly important. For example, teens at risk for problem behaviors such as self-injury, eating disorders, or gambling can easily find Web sites and chat rooms where they can socialize with others who have the same tendencies. While these online relationships can provide social support, they can also introduce vulnerable teens to new strategies for engaging in these behaviors; some even explicitly encourage the problems (Whitlock, Powers, & Eckenrode, 2006).
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