Video Games May Improve Reading Skills In Children With Dyslexia: Study

03/04/2013 03:00 pm ET | Updated Mar 08, 2013

Think video games are bad for kids? You might have to reconsider. A team from the University of Padua published a paper Thursday called "Action Video Games Make Dyslexic Children Read Better," which presents evidence that playing action-oriented video games can increase the reading comprehension skills of children with dyslexia.

In its experiment, the team separated children aged 7-13 into two groups: The first group played nine 80-minute sessions of the action-packed video game "Rayman Raving Rabbids," while the second group played a relatively placid game. Afterward, the subjects' reading skills were tested; those who had played the action-oriented video game were able to read faster and more accurately, and subsequently did better on other tests measuring attention span.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, also found that the children who played the action video game for 12 hours saw a larger improvement in reading skills than they would have from an average amount of reading during an entire year. The authors hypothesized that action video games rapidly honed players' visual attention spans and taught them to extract critical information from the environment -- two skills that are crucial to reading.

The team's findings contradict the conventional wisdom that video games are "bad for young brains," and it will likely be a boon to video game advocates like media theorist Steven Johnson and game designer Jane McGonigal. Johnson argued in his controversial book Everything Bad Is Good For You that video games boost players' IQ, while McGonigal wrote in her book Reality Is Broken that games teach players confidence and altruism.

The study's authors are likewise optimistic, writing in their paper's summary that video games might potentially provide a "new, fast, fun remediation of dyslexia." Still, as the BBC reports, the study's lead author tempered his enthusiasm: "These results are very important in order to understand the brain mechanisms underlying dyslexia," he said, "but they don't put us in a position to recommend playing video games without any control or supervision."

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