There’s big talk about mindfulness. Maybe because is the era of distraction because we are struggling with multitasking, partial attention, and information overload. But probably because we know there are enormous benefits to mindfulness, but achieving mindfulness is something that does not seem to be natural to us. Time magazine has documented the struggle.
So I was surprised to discover that if you let kids choose their own learning path, many (especially boys) will choose video games, AND video games teach mindfulness that lasts throughout life.
So it makes sense that the way we teach kids in school crushes the innate human drive toward mindfulness, and kids left to their own will choose activities that promote mindfulness.
(Other examples: reading every Nancy Drew book. Putting together every Lego project. Playing outside all day long. These are things that create mindfulness, but are not something you can do in school.)
How do video games promote mindfulness? My first thought is that obsessive, overly-focused activities promote mindfulness and video games are that. The activities that kids do so much that they become experts—the ones that only a self-directed learner could do—those are the ones that promote mindfulness.
But here is some other, recent research that shows video games, in particular action games which require very quick reactions, produce an interesting result: they train gamers’ brains to pay attention with less effort.
1. Video games train a brain like meditation trains a brain.
Like people who meditate, action gamers can stay focused with greater efficiency. The games train their brains to stay focused with lower recruitment of the fronto-parietal network, an area of the brain that helps people regulate their attention. Essentially, their brains don’t have to work as hard to stay focused.
2. Visual training creates a higher mindfulness in life.
Major league baseball players train their eyes to see a pitch in a way that creates an effect of meditating because players learn to tune out visual distractions and focus on details of physical movement.
Like baseball players, video games also improve gamers’ vision. Lab tests have shown sizable improvements in their ability to pick out small details amid visual clutter and even to recognize more shades of gray in their visual field.
3. Video games require high emotional regulation.
Games played with friends or other players online require players to monitor their emotional reactions. Even single-player games force gamers to keep calm in the face of ever-mounting challenges and sometimes in the face of sheer chaos. Author Gerard Jones, says the attitude among players is, “You can’t be angry when you play a video game. You have to be calm, or you’re going to get wasted.”
The impact for failing to self-regulate in school is you get removed from the game: the principal’s office, bad grades, detention, etc. The impact from failing to self-regulate in a game is that you get another try, right away, to do it better. Child behaviorists tell us that the second way is a much more effective teaching method.
Also, whereas schools treat ADHD with medication, video games can treat ADHD with a wide range of strategies that are much less invasive. Video games help mitigate ADHD. The emerging field of therapeutic neurogaming provides hands-free ADHD therapy game that works only if players are calm and focused. The controller is your brain. Your ability to remain calm and focused dictates how well you do.