ADHD and Video Games Research Summary

Most of the research examining the impact of video games on children with ADHD is consistent with what we know about typically developing children. There are positive findings as well as modest concerns about excessive play. Recent studies have indicated that children with ADHD who play excessive amounts of video game are likely to display higher levels of inattention. Problematic video-game use among children with ADHD is also associated with difficulty in impulse control and response inhibition.

According to Olson (2007), children with ADHD are more likely to use video games as a means of coping with anger than children without ADHD. Therefore, video games may be helpful for children with ADHD who have difficulty controlling their anger. Further, Wilkinson et al. (2008) argue that certain games may be useful in reducing hyperactive, inattentive, or impulsive symptoms. Durkin (2010) states that children with ADHD may experience stimulation in dopamine release when playing video games, which is unusual due to their normally possessing a dysfunctional dopamine system, which is why they react differently to medications than most other children. Even so, most research does not indicate that children with ADHD are more likely to play video games than other children.

The bulk of the data suggest that children with ADHD play video games about the same amount as their peers and in a very similar fashion. However, children with ADHD often do not display the executive-functioning skills necessary to apply good problem solving in complex video games. Our research at LearningWorks for Kids has found that children with ADHD demonstrate much higher levels of focus and attention and a reduction in ADHD symptoms while playing video games. This does not suggest that video games eliminate attention problems but that fewer symptoms have been observed during game play.   

There is also substantial evidence that video games can help children with ADHD acquire self-management skills, learn breathing and relaxation techniques, and optimize working-memory skills. Additional research has suggested that children with ADHD often make more progress on both reading and mathematical tasks when they use computer-assisted learning compared to traditional classroom teaching.

To learn more about this important topic, check out these straightforward and scholarly articles that reflect the current state of the science. You can also link to our complete bibliography on the science of games and learning or go to the Center for Media and Child Health Research base for more extensive information.

Bioulac, S., Lallemand, S., Fabrigoule, C., Thoumy, A., Philip, P., Bouvard, M. P., (2012). Video game performances are preserved in ADHD children compared with controls. Journal of Attention Disorders,

The author demonstrates that cognitive difficulties in ADHD are task dependent. Although poorer inhibitory control has been reported with ADHD children, these deficits have been shown to lessen while they are playing video games.

Ceronugla, T.A. (2018). Inattention to problematic media use habits: Interaction between digital media use and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 27(2), 183-191.

The article discusses the negative impact of excessive use of digital media on symptoms associated with ADHD. Interventions for the problematic use of digital media are discussed by parents and clinicians.  

Clarfield, J., Stoner, G. (2005). The effects of computerized reading instruction on the academic performance of students identified with ADHD. School Psychology Review, 34(2), 246-254.

Headsprout is a computerized program that was used as an intervention for children with ADHD that focuses on oral reading fluency and task engagement. This was found to be more effective than teacher-directed instruction.

Durkin, K. (2010). Videogames and young people with developmental disorders. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 122-140.

This article examines how individuals with ADHD and language impairments respond to challenges that video-game play entail, referencing different sensory, cognitive, and social dimensions within video-game play.

Griffiths, M., (2003). The therapeutic use of video games in childhood and adolescents. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.

Article examining how video games help learning disabled children and adolescents with their development of spatial abilities, problem-solving skills, and mathematical abilities. Researchers warn that the wrong kinds of video games may be detrimental.

Kietglaiwansiri, T & Chonchaiya, W. (2018). Pattern of video game use in children with attention‐deficit–hyperactivity disorder and typical development. Pediatrics International, 60(6), 523-528.

Research comparing video-game use and addiction in 80 participants with ADHD and 102 typically-developing controls. Results indicated that participants engaged in video-game play for more than 2 hours a day as opposed to other age-appropriate leisure activities, and children with ADHD displayed more compulsive video-game play than their peers.

Lawrence, V., Houghton, S., Douglas, G., Durkin, K., Whiting, K., Tannock, R. (2004). Executive function and ADHD: A comparison of children’s performance during neuropsychological testing and real-world activities. Journal of Attention Disorders, 7(3), 137-149.

This articles explains how executive functioning differs in children with ADHD  and with typical developing children. Those with ADHD have impaired executive functions and slower processing speed for real-world situations.

Mazurek, M. O., Engelhardt, C. R. (2013). Video game use in boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, or typical development. Pediatrics, 132(2), 260-266

This article examines which specific symptoms and game features of video-game play relate to boys across three groups, those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, those with ADHD, and those who are typically developing.   

Ota, K. R., DuPaul, G. J. (2002). Task engagement and mathematics performance in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: Effects of supplemental computer instruction. School Psychology Quarterly, 17(3), 242-257.

This article examines how computer instruction can be helpful for academic performance, specifically in mathematics, for fourth to sixth grade students with ADHD. Game formats to increase attention were partially supportive.

Shaw, R., Grayson, A., Lewis, V., (2005). Inhibition, ADHD, and computer games: The inhibitory performance of children with ADHD on computerized tasks and games. Journal of Attention Disorders, 8(4), 160-168.

This article examines inhibitory control in children with ADHD across commercially-available video games, the Connors Continuous Performance Test (CPT), and a more game-like version of the CPT that incorporates features available in commercially-available video games. The study showed no difference between the inhibitory performance of children with ADHD while playing computer games.

Swing, E. L., Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., & Walsh. D. A., (2010). Television and video game exposure and development of attention problems. Pediatrics, 126(2), 214-221.

This article examines  exposure to television and video games and its association with attention problems in children with ADHD.

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