Does playing action video games improve reading skills in children or adults with dyslexia? If so, why and how? A research report published on Feb. 28, 2013, by Current Biology claims that “Twelve hours of action video games improve the reading skills in dyslexic children.”
In its summary, the research report stated the following major points:
- “Here, we demonstrate that only 12 hr of playing action video games—not involving any direct phonological or orthographic training—drastically improve the reading abilities of children with dyslexia.
- We tested reading, phonological, and attentional skills in two matched groups of children with dyslexia before and after they played action or nonaction video games for nine sessions of 80 min per day.
- We found that only playing action video games improved children’s reading speed, without any cost in accuracy, more so than 1 year of spontaneous reading development and more than or equal to highly demanding traditional reading treatments.
- Attentional skills also improved during action video game training.
- It has been demonstrated that action video games efficiently improve attention abilities [14,15]; our results showed that this attention improvement can directly translate into better reading abilities, providing a new, fast, fun remediation of dyslexia that has theoretical relevance in unveiling the causal role of attention in reading acquisition.”
The two matched groups of dyslexic children that were used in the study by Italian researchers consisted of only 10 children in each group. One group of dyslexic children played action video games for nine sessions of 80 minutes each while the other group of dyslexic children played non-action video games.
On March 5, 2013, The New York Times reported that the Italian researchers had bought the video games in retail stores and that they had no financial interest or connection with a video game company.
At the beginning of the research study, both groups of dyslexic children were evaluated and their reading and attention skills were comparable.
After the research study was conducted, the difference in reading and attention skills between the action video game group and non-action video game group was significant.
“Those trained on the action games scored significantly higher than those who played the nonaction games by various measures: combined speed and accuracy, recognizing pseudo-words made of random letters, and reaction time. The action game players also scored higher on tests that measured attention by inserting distractions as the children tried to accomplish various visual and auditory tasks.”
In response to the Italian research study, Gameranx wrote on March 6, 2013, that,
“These children all played the same game, Rayman Raving Rabbids on the Wii, but with one group assigned action mini-games and the other assigned non-action mini-games. … But we need more research, with larger groups of participants and a wider variety of games, before we can start to take this suggestion seriously.”
One would agree with Gameranx that one small research study involving only one video game and a small group is insufficient to take the suggestion that action video games help children seriously.
Parents of dyslexic children and dyslexic adults might want to take one small research study as an impetus to do their own research on how action video games affects their child's or their own reading and attention skills instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Those games might be computer based or Wii based.
How is it possible that action video games improve the reading and attention skills of a dyslexic child or adult?
According to Simone Gori , who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Padua and who was a co-author of the Italian research study, “The change in attentional abilities translates into better reading ability.”
Simone Gori’s correlation between attention and reading skills might be insufficient to understand why action video games can improve a dyslexic child’s reading skills.
A more effective explanation might be one crucial word, -- Corpus Callosum
According to Exploration International, “The Corpus Callosum has been linked by scientists to Dyslexia, ADHD, Emotional Disabilities, and Autism. A timing problem in interhemispheric transfer of information as well as insufficient information passing between the two halves of the brain has been the object of most recent studies.”
The Corpus Callosum, or “Inter-sphere Highway,” is the structure that connects the left and right brain hemisphere.
In dyslexic children and adults, the structure of the Corpus Callosum (including its thickness and neuronal pathways) affects how and how fast dyslexic children process information between the left and right brain hemispheres.
Dyslexic children prefer and tend to stay on the right brain hemisphere because it is their strong visual, creative, and imaginative side. Because of the structure of the Corpus Callosum, going over to the left brain hemisphere, which is associated with math and language skills, takes much more effort.
The Corpus Callosum or “Inter-sphere Highway”of dyslexic children or adults is like a very rocky road that is difficult to travel and can be only driven at slow speed.
Playing action video games strengthens the Corpus Callosum, or the inter-sphere highway and the “better and more refined the highway, the more and the faster information can flow between the left and right hemisphere.”
Action video games are fun and entertaining and force dyslexic individuals to move quickly from one brain hemisphere to the other, thus strengthening the Corpus Callosum.
Non-action video games that do not involve speed and the rapid crossing over from one side of the brain to the other will not strengthen the Corpus Callosum or improve the“Inter-sphere Highway.”
Strengthening the Corpus Callosum and forming new and stronger neuronal pathways (called Neuroplasticity) across the Corpus Callosum is possible for children and adults of all ages.
While there are various activities that result in Neuroplasticity, playing action video games is one option for children or adults who enjoy the activity.
The Italian research study is not the only incident where the positive effects of action video games have been observed in dyslexic children or adults.
After having taught dyslexic children for over 20 years, the author of this article has made the same observation with adults who have no signs anymore of dyslexia and with dyslexic children who read beyond their grade level and whose attention level is beyond their age group due to having played action video games on a somewhat regular basis.
If one special education teacher agrees with the findings of the Italian study, maybe more parents, teachers, or dyslexic adults can share their experience so others might benefit; -- and not have to wait until a few more years have gone by and the dyslexic children are grown into dyslexic adults without the help that they could have received; -- the strengthening of their corpus callosum.
You can share your experience with dyslexia and action video games either via a Facebook comment or contact the author by clicking on the author’s picture below.