Monthly Archives: June 2017

Video games play on attention: review

Video game playing can change the brain, making gamers more attentive and heighten visual perception according to the latest review into research.

Scientists collected and summarized results from more than 115 research projects on video games from across the globe, finding research suggested game use could result in changes to the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient.

The Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Journal recently published the scientists’ findings. Lead author Marc Palaus said with sensationalist claims by the media in the past about the negative effect of video game use he and his colleagues wanted to try to determine whether there was scientific evidence of brain changes.

“Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims… gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” Mr Palaus said.

He said studies showed how playing video games could change how brains perform and their structure.

“…playing video games affects our attention and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks,” he said.

The addiction to video game use – Internet Gaming Disorder – was also studied by the research team. They found gaming addicts had functional and structural changes in their neural reward system, in part as a result of exposing them to gaming cues which promote cravings. The neural changes highlighted were similar to those seen in other addictive disorders.

“We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” Mr Palaus said.

“…video games are still quite new and the research into their effects is still in its infancy.”

“It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity.”




Reading for fun is more than a story

Young people are more enthusiastic about reading today and they are reaping the benefits associated with reading for enjoyment.

Nearly 60 per cent of more than 42,000 8-18 year olds surveyed by the UK’s National Literacy Trust for its 2016 Annual Literacy Survey said they enjoyed reading “very much” or “quite a lot”. General levels of reading for enjoyment have increased in the annual survey since 2005 with a 15 per cent increase in recent years.

National Literacy Trust director Jonathan Douglas said it was great to see young people reading for entertainment, interest and enjoyment.

“We are thrilled that our research has found children’s enjoyment of reading to be at an all-time high,” Mr Douglas said.

“When children enjoy reading and have books of their own, they do better at school and later in life, so we must continue to do everything we can to inspire children to fall in love with reading for a lifetime.”

The survey revealed a noticeable drop in boys’ enjoyment of reading as they got older, with more than 72 per cent of 8- 11 year olds saying they enjoyed reading compared to just 35 per cent by 14-16 years.

Girls also experienced a drop in reading for enjoyment rates in the teen years, but not as dramatically as boys with a 30 per cent drop from 83 to 53 per cent in the respective age brackets.

The link between reading for enjoyment and academic performance was also strongly displayed in survey results, reinforcing previous research findings about the connections between reading for enjoyment, reading behaviour, motivation and skills.

Researchers focused on the link between the lengths of time students continued to read for enjoyment and their levels of classroom success. The longer a child read for enjoyment the greater the benefit, for instance a 10 year old had a reading age 1.3 years above them, 12 year olds who continued to read for enjoyment were about two years ahead in their reading abilities and 14 year olds were at a 17-year-old reading level.

“More pupils who enjoy reading read daily, more widely and more books compared with those who don’t enjoy reading. They are also more confident readers, spend less time online and are more motivated by interest and achievement and less by approval.”

The National Literacy Trust offers parents tips to encouraging boys to try reading for enjoyment;

  • Make reading active – get boys to “act out” what they have read
  • Provide male reading role models
  • Reading doesn’t just relate to books – magazines and comics are a great way to encourage boys to read
  • Give lots of praise
  • Use a hobby or sport as a hook
  • Build regular reading time into the day
  • Experiment with genres



Dads urged to break silence

Dads are being urged to break the silence and start a conversation with their boys which could be vital to their mental health.

headspace launched its annual Fathers Campaign last week, encouraging dads to speak to their sons about mental health issues. With latest figures showing just 13 per cent of boys report any mental health concerns, the agency is eager to help boys break down perceived stigmas around mental health issues and speak up.

NRL star Nathan Hindmarsh is the face of this year’s campaign, saying at the launch he was proud to support the initiative as a father of four boys.

“I look at my four boys and I want them to know that I will always be available to talk to them – day or night – whatever problem they may be facing,” Hindmarsh said.

He said dads needed to learn the triggers and warning signs attached to mental illness to be able to support their children through it.

“Often just talking about it is the hardest, but most important step to take when dealing with mental health worries,” he said.

headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan said mental health concerns were one of many issues that traditionally went unsaid between fathers and sons and the campaign aimed to change this dynamic.

“In past generations men were sometimes reluctant to open up about mental health issues but with the services and support available today we should be able to change that,”Mr Trethowan said.

He said fathers could play a key role in identifying early signs of mental illness and helping their sons but were unsure how to start a conversation with their boys and were unaware of services available to help.

“From a practical level, dads can set the scene and think about where they are going to have a conversation, in the car perhaps, or kicking the footy – the conversation should be had in a safe and comfortable space.”

headspace offers information on its website about encouraging young people to speak about their mental health;

  • Think about how you can talk about and manage your own feelings – often young people are worried about their parents being upset, anxious, overwhelmed, shocked, angry, or blaming. If a young person can see their parent might be able to respond calmly and listen they are more likely to begin a conversation – if you are not sure how to respond contact support services to seek advice
  • Be available without being intrusive
  • Spend regular time with your child – it will help keep communication lines open
  • Show interest in their lives and try not to focus on things you think are a problem
  • Take their feelings seriously – show empathy, listen and don’t judge
  • Encourage and support positive friendships
  • Let them know you love them

For more information from headspace about dealing with mental illness in adolescents visit

Phone use at bedtime impacts more than sleep

Mobile phones are an essential part of most teenage boys’ lives but new research shows those boys who use their phones late into the night are experiencing poor sleep and mental health problems.

Researchers from Murdoch and Griffith Universities studied more than 1000 WA students aged 13-16 years over a four year period, finding increased night-time mobile phone use was directly linked to depressed moods in teens, decreased self-esteem and lower coping capabilities among participants in the study.

Head researcher Lynette Vernon said mobile phone use was a problem for teens when using the phone took priority over other essential parts of their lives – i.e. sleep.

“We found that late night phone use directly contributed to poor sleep habits, which over time led to declines in overall wellbeing and mental health,” Dr Vernon said.

The students’ phone habits were tracked from Year 8 to Year 11. By Year 11 78 per cent of students studied admitted to using their phones after bedtime to text or call friends, use social media or the internet.

Dr Vernon said banning a teen’s phone may not be the answer to improving sleep patterns and associated behaviours. Rather, negotiating may be a key to striking a healthy balance between phone usage and sleep.

Dr Vernon offered a number of tips to parents in an interview with The West Australian, including;

  • Using negotiation to manage phone usage alongside other activities/needs in teen lives, i.e. school, homework, sporting commitments and sleep
  • Encouraging teens to be responsible for monitoring their own sleep patterns using a fitbit or sleep app
  • Keeping phones off bedside tables – buy an alarm clock or use an old phone which does not have access to the internet/phone calls