In Brief

Video games, the Internet and other interactive technologies are transforming classrooms, workplaces and homes, yet there's been little scientific research on their impact, a panel of psychologists said at a June 8 congressional briefing sponsored by APA.

One reason, the panelists said, is that there's no formal funding programs.

"We need a systematic database about how information technology impacts cognitive and social development," said psychologist Sandra Calvert, PhD, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University. "But, that requires a reliable funding source from the government."

Without government funding, most research is being conducted by marketing experts to sell products rather than by social scientists, said psychologist Virginia Andreoli Mathie, PhD, a professor of psychology at James Madison University.

But, market research is proprietary and not widely published.

"Government funding is critical to developing research that informs public policy," Mathie said.

In addition to providing funding, government agencies need to band with academic and nonprofit groups to develop a research agenda that would be inclusive, said moderator Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education.

Potential research questions include:

  • Are teachers using interactive technology effectively?

  • Do students' thought processes change as they adapt to the digital age and new teaching practices?

  • Do differences between people affect the way they respond to interactive technology?

  • How does interactive technology in education affect social and emotional development?

"We need to understand why interactive technology works and how it works so we can provide better training for teachers to use this technology," said Mathie.

Similarly, studies need to examine how interactive technology can enhance workplace safety and performance.

"We want to improve people's efficiency and effectiveness in using these tools to accomplish tasks," says psychologist Deborah Boehm-Davis, PhD, professor of psychology at George Mason University. In some settings, such as using computers, that means increasing speed, but in other venues, such as airlines, that means eliminating errors, she said.

Another area to investigate is how interactive technology affects child development.

"We don't have nearly enough information about what kinds of cognitive processes are being activated when kids use interactive technology," said Calvert.

For instance, researchers need to determine if interactivity is fundamentally different from observing, said Calvert, and whether an activity can be encoded into a person's muscles. "If you play a video game where you repeatedly pull a trigger, would you know how to shoot a gun because you practiced it over and over with the video game?" she asked.

Researchers also need to explore the positive side of interactive technology, such as whether the Internet can foster sharing, helping and cooperation.

"The goal," Calvert said, "is to understand interactive technology's effects in ways that will allow us to maximize the positive and minimize the negative."