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Friday, February 17, 2017

Device Addiction

I have written about electronic games HERE and HERE.

I feel compelled to write about it again for 2 reasons.

(1) I observed over the Chinese New Year. Everywhere I went, and I do mean everywhere... I saw children holding phones and tablets, watching youtube or playing device games. If you don't know what is happening to these poor children as they stare into their precious devices, click HERE and understand that it is like a cocaine addiction.

(2) In the past 1.5 months, I observed a marked deterioration in 3 boys' ability to focus and retain material pre and post Dec holidays. The difference was marked enough that I had to stop and troubleshoot each case before I connected the dots into a pattern. I asked all 3 parents, "How many hours of device games did your boy get over the Dec holidays?"

Th answers were between 1 to 4 hours.

Wow! You might as well feed your child cocaine from a straw daily? Why don't you do that?

Why Do Device Games Compromise Focus and Learning Retention?
It really does not matter what games they are playing. My 3 students played Minecraft, Chess, Scrabble. Yet, when they returned to my classes, the drop in focus and retention abilities was obvious to me.

It DOES NOT matter what "educational" game the child is playing. The fact that the child is drawn to the game to the extent where he spends 4 hours a day glued to it and will not stop unless asked to, means that certain biological processes are taking place.

No matter the apparent "educational value" of the game, the biology does not change. It is all about dopamine and dopamine receptors.

Brain Needs Dopamine To Retain Learning
When dopamine (the happy hormone) and dopamine receptors connect at the moment you are learning new material or skills, the brain retains that material or those skills. If you don't believe me, click HERE. That is why happy children learn better.

Device Games Flood The Brain With Dopamine 
Device games flood the brain with dopamine in the same way cocaine or heroine do. If you don't believe me, click HERE.

If device games flood the brain with dopamine, and dopamine helps the brain retain learning, then isn't it good to expose children to as much device games as possible?

No, it is not.

How Do Device Games Change the Brain?
The problem arises when dopamine floods the brain. After that first moment of joy, the brain responds "by (1) producing less dopamine or  (2) eliminating dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when noise becomes too loud" (Source HERE).

With fewer dopamine receptors, the same high levels of dopamine from a computer game will produce LESS joy. You need higher and higher levels of dopamine to bind to fewer and fewer receptors, to produce the same degree of happiness. This is how an addiction forms. If the addiction continues unabated, you crave the stimulation above all else.

However, way way waaaaaaaay before your child gets to that stage of full blown addiction, his brain is already eliminating dopamine receptors in response to an hour of daily device games. At this stage, your child does not don't crave device games to the point where he loses control, but his brain's ability to retain material and skills learnt, is already compromised.

Way before he becomes really addicted, he already has fewer dopamine receptors for dopamine to bind to. Away from device games, his brain is already producing less dopamine than before he started playing device games. The net effect of this is 2-fold...

(1) With less dopamine produced binding to fewer dopamine receptors, his ability to retain material and skills learnt won't be as good as before he started playing device games.

(2) He doesn't have enough dopamine to synthesize into norepinephrine to help him focus attention.

What is Norepinephrine?
In the brain, norepinephrine increases arousal and alertness, promotes vigilance, enhances formation and retrieval of memory, and focuses attention (Source HERE). Children with Attention Deficit Disorder are often given Ritalin, which elevates norepinephrine levels in their brains and helps them to focus (Source HERE).

Dopamine is required for the production of norepinephrine. If the child is low on dopamine, he will be low on norepinephrine. If he is low on norepinephrine, his ability to focus will be compromised.

Practical Symptoms
So how does Dr. Pet know a child has been gaming?

(1) I know when I track back multiple weeks of HW and find that simple mistakes are repeated. See picture herein below of an intelligent child who makes simple mistakes repeatedly.




(2) I know when I compare the weekly facilitator behavioural report on each individual child and note a deterioration in attentional focus. I also know because I am in class to observe for myself the spaced out look and the drifting eyes.

We do not bother to collect nor archive quantitative data on marks. We do collect a vast amount of individual data on HW quality and in-class social behaviours because that is what allows me to know each child and to troubleshoot each child intimately.

The One Thing To Be Grateful For
Gaming does not seem to impair a child's ability to figure things out. That capability stays intact. However, the gamers have intermittent attentional focus and it is this intermittent focus that makes the child seem slow at figuring things out. At the point of time where he can focus, the ability to figure things out still seems intact.

One Hour A Day of Computer Games Is NOT Benign
Rules must be different for children than adults. An adult liver can process alcohol more effectively. There is legal age for alcohol consumption, no?  An adult's skin is more resilient to the sun. Adults can do things that children should not do.

An adult brain is NOT as sensitive as a child's. Children are supposed to learn like sponges. This means that their brains CHANGE FAST in response to stimulus. Their brains are way more sensitive than ours. Even an hour a day of device games is damaging. Even 30 minutes a day is damaging. Even 5 minutes a day is damaging.

Go ahead, give your 3 year old or 10 year old a tablespoon of vodka every day, or a cigarette every day. If you won't do that, why would you give them device games every day?

If you want to see the research on this, click HERE and read all the research papers. If you have time to only read ONE research paper, then click HERE for research that was done with Singaporean students. I have drawn out the following path model from this research done in Singapore. Note that gaming negatively affects school grades.



2 comments:

Xiaohan Ng said...

Hi Dr Pet, I'm a primary school teacher and I love reading your posts on education. (Background:I discovered your blog when I was researching on aircon servicing companies. ^^)

I share your view with regards to gaming, and I'd love to share this piece with my parents. May I?

Petunia Lee said...

Oh yes! Please share! The message is urgent to get out to parents who do not know. I don't understand what MOE is doing. It should be taking out huge advertisements to spread the word before the phenomenon gets worse. If MOE did its job, I would not need to write this post. Please share this post everywhere and anywhere.