Consider the video game “World of Warcraft”, When I was growing up, the maximum skill that I was expected to display in a video game, was simple hand eye coordination, a joystick, and a firing button. Today’s kids play games, in which they’re expected to chat in text and in voice, operate a character, follow long- and short-term objectives, and deal with their parents’ interrupting them all the time and talk to them. Kids have to have an extraordinary multitasking skill to be able to achieve things today. We never had to have that.
It turns out things like that actually make you smarter. Research by Arne May at University Regensburg in Germany found that when they gave participants — and this was actually done on adults — simple task to learn, like juggling. In 12 weeks, people who were asked to learn juggling displayed a marked increase in gray matter in their brain. On an MRI, you can see people get more gray matters after 12 weeks of learning juggling. And in 2008, they went back and redid the study to see why the gray matters increased. And they discovered it was the act of learning that produces the increased gray matter, not performing at the activity itself, which is a very very interesting finding.
It also may reinforce this idea, which should go very well here as well, that multi-lingual people outperform mono-lingual people on most standardized test by about 15%. There’s something that happens in the brain from that kind of activity.
And Andrea Kuszewski, speaking at Harvard, talked about these five things that people do to increase their brain matter to teach themselves, to increase their fluid intelligence. And fluid intelligence is the intelligence we use to problem solve. It’s different from crystalline intelligence. It helps us problem solve. And she identified from the research that there are 5 things you could do: seek novelty, challenge yourself, think creatively, do things the hard way, and network.
Think about those 5 things. Any of you play video games? Does it resemble the basic pattern of a video game to you in any way? These are 5 things that recur in all very successful video games. And it also was connected to a constant and exponential increase in learning. Video games fundamentally present a continuous process of learning to users. They don’t just learn for a little while and then stop. They’re constantly evolving and moving forward. It may in fact help us to explain the Flynn Effect, finally. And the Flynn Effect, for those you don’t know, is the pattern that human intelligence is actually rising over time.
So, if we look at the history of IQ, people in fact are getting smarter. In the US right now, average IQ is rising at 0.36 points of IQ per year. Now, what’s been very interesting is that in some countries, not to call anyone out, but Denmark and Norway, in some countries, overall Crystalline IQ has stopped, or slowed down, or declined. In other countries though, particularly when looking at fluid IQ, fluid intelligence, the number is increasing, and the rate of fluid intelligence increase is increasing, starting in the 1990s. Coincidence? I think not.
In fact, games are wired to produce a particular kind of reaction in people. We got this learning brain increase, multitasking brain increase connection. We also have a strong dopamine within the brain. So, as games present a challenge, and you struggle to achieve that challenge and you overcome it, dopamine is released in your brain, and that produces an intrinsic reinforcement – in the words of Judy – that produces an intrinsic reinforcement that causes you to go back and like keep seeking that activity over and over again. So, this is really powerful stuff.
And I want to introduce you to an educator, who understands this in intricate detail, named Ananth Pai. Ananth was a very successful business person, who worked on process reengineering. When his kids went into school in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, suburb of Minneapolis St. Paul, he saw the education system and decided he wanted to do something about it. As an adult, he went back and got a master in Ed, and took over a class at White Bear Lake Elementary School.
And Ananth Pai replaced the standard curriculum with the video game based curriculum of his own design. Separating the kids into learning styles, and giving them Nintendo DS’s and computer games, everything off the shelves. Nothing is custom. Giving them Nintendo DS’s and computer games that were both individual and social to play, that taught them math and language. And let me tell you what happened. In the space of 18 weeks, 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went from a below 3rd-grade level in reading and math, to a mid-4th-grade level in reading and math, in 18 weeks of a game based curriculum.
More importantly, when you talk to the children, when they’re interviewed on TV, even away from Mr. Pai, when they’re interviewed on TV, they’d say two things over and over again, that helps them learn in his class: learning is fun, and learning is multi-player. Whether they use these exact words or not, they say learning is fun and learning is multi-player. And this is the key to making that experience really successful for kids.
It’s also true though that we need to talk about the relationship between kids and violence in games. Study after study, very clearly tells you, that violent games do not make children violent. We also must acknowledge, however, that if you have a child predisposed to violence, violent games may help make them a better violent child. If they train kids to do other things, they also would train that. And we need to accept that. And we need to start understanding the connection between games as a form of training. We can’t blank it, say, that they don’t affect kids. It’s not true.