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Computers Boost Preschool Kids' Intelligence

But Too Much Computer Time Could Hamper Development

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The 122 4-year-olds in Li's study were enrolled in a rural Head Start program in an economically depressed region of West Virginia. "We wanted to pick a population with a limited access to computers. In the urban middle class, all families have them," he tells WebMD.

Parents completed a questionnaire: Did their home have a computer? Did the children use it? How often? Was there a video game system like the Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, or Sony Playstation 2? Also, did the children have access to a computer outside the home?

He found that about half of the families -- 53% -- had a computer at home, and most had some sort of game system, too.


  • 83% of home computers had children's software on their computer.
  • 29% of children used their home computer daily; 44% used it at least weekly
  • 56% of families without a home computer had access to one elsewhere.
  • 10% of those children without home access used that computer daily; 33% used it weekly.

"Many kids took advantage of computers in other settings (like the babysitter's house)," Li tells WebMD. "That was good news."

The children were given several tests to measure their eye-hand coordination, motor skills (like running, jumping, catching) and their IQ. Their "school readiness" was also evaluated: Could they follow directions and understand concepts like big and small, right and left?

Importantly, "we didn't see any problems in eye-hand or motor development," says Li. "We didn't see deteriorating impact of computer use."

The Good News

In fact, it was all good news. Preschoolers with computer access had:

  • Higher skill development test scores -- twice as high
  • IQ scores 12 points higher than kids who didn't use computers
  • Better school readiness scores

Were the children using educational software or just playing games? His study didn't look at that specifically. However, it did show that some computer or electronic game exposure was better than none.

"These kids are very young," Li explains. "They cannot do Excel or Power Point. They must be limited to simple games or simple learning. How the child uses the computer may not be important. But whether they use it is important."

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