Can Video Games Teach Kids “Grit”?

KIPP’s character report card and Paul Tough’s new book have laudably placed an emphasis on how emotional skills and character traits (e.g. persistence, curiosity, optimism, etc.) influence a child’s academic trajectory. Yet the question remains, will our education system make a real effort to emphasize these new ideas, or will they join things like Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets in the heap of scientifically valid interventions that are given their 15 minutes and then ignored.

The answer to this question will likely come down to whether we can find workable ways of enhancing crucial character traits and skills. Fortunately, one method may be right under our noses — video games:

An online performance-based measure of persistence was developed using anagrams and riddles. Persistence was measured by recording the time spent on unsolved anagrams and riddles. Time spent on unsolved problems was correlated to a self-report measure of persistence. Additionally, frequent video game players spent longer times on unsolved problems relative to infrequent video game players. Results are explained in terms of the value of performance-based measures of persistence over self-report measures and how video game use can lead to more persistence across a variety of tasks.

The findings are relatively intuitive in that video games — and RPGs in particular — reinforce the relationship between persistence and rewards. It’s also worth noting that over 80% of the sample was female, so it’s unlikely there are gender differences in how video games influence persistence.

The broader point is that there are a host unique of unique things that computer-based cognitive tutors can do. While it’s clearly unrealistic for students to spend hours of class time playing Skyrim, at the margin a computer-based exercise can give kids more control, more flexibility, more areas for exploration, and more opportunity to persist and see that persistence pay off. Cognitive tutors won’t be best for every student, but the potential to teach persistence is another reason it’s important to support the development of an infrastructure that provides opportunities for any student to get computer-based instruction.
Ventura, M., Shute, V., & Zhao, W. (2013). The relationship between video game use and a performance-based measure of persistence Computers and Education DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.07.003

One Response to Can Video Games Teach Kids “Grit”?

  1. Brendan says:

    As an avid video game player, i can absolutely agree. in rpg games I constantly drive to be the best or first place player. anything but and i get the urgency to start trowing controllers Never will i end a gaming session on a losing match

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