One of the most dreaded feelings your child can experience is receiving a bad grade on a test, especially if they studied and prepared for it. Often test scores weigh heavily on overall scores, so dread can quickly turn to panic and manifest into stress. Virtual and alternative worlds, however, may be a source of therapy. A new study suggests that playing video games can help mitigate some of the effects felt by students from low test scores by reaffirming their abilities in another area they deem important.

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According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), 92 percent of children and adolescents ages two to 17 play video games. There is already evidence that suggests that video games can protect mental health and avert trauma. Video games have been shown to promote better attention skills in some children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction, improve motor skills in kids with autism, and provide home rehabilitation therapies for people (including children and adolescents) with cerebral palsy. Now, according to this new research, video games might also boost resilience in times of duress or diminished confidence.

The study, conducted at the Department of Journalism & Electronic Media at the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication, included 81 college-aged students. Participants were administered a survey to assess their motivations for video-game play and the importance of video games to their identity. They were then given an IQ test and were told the test was a strong measure of intelligence. Upon completing the test, participants were given either negative feedback on their performance or no feedback at all. Negative feedback caused a certain amount of defensiveness among participants.

Participants then played a video game for 15 minutes that randomly provided positive or no feedback. Players were told the game was an adequate test of their video-game playing skills. Participants then completed an online survey containing ratings of the intelligence test and self-ratings on intelligence. The researchers discovered that those who place importance on being successful at video games were less likely to be defensive about the poor performance on the intelligence test. They were also willing to consider the implications of their scores, which is crucial for taking steps to change study habits and ensure they do better on future exams.

“This study appears to be another example of the growing body of research on the benefits of playing video games,” says Drew Messer, a licensed psychologist and co-director of Electronic Gaming Therapy, Inc. “Our clinical experience is consistent with the idea that children and adolescents ‘who value video game success as part of their identity and received positive feedback on their video game play’ may be more likely or willing to engage in a difficult task.”

John Velez, assistant professor and lead author of the study, says the theory and psychological process the study examined is universal – meaning it should be applicable to people of all ages, including younger students. Velez plans to examine this process further in children of different ages. “[With this study,] I wanted to show that for some people, video games are being used in a healthy, positive way to cope with setbacks in school,” he says.

Video games are an important part of millions of kid’s identities and many refer to themselves as “gamers” much in the same way that other kids identify as musicians, athletes, or artists, Velez explains. People often fall back on these important parts of their identities when other areas of their lives are not going great.

“Our experience is that parents who show interest in their children’s activities (including video games) and give them positive feedback are more likely to be successful in engaging their children to solve problems,” says Messer.

For people who identify as gamers, they may retreat to their favorite video game only to come back reinvigorated or ready to face life’s challenges again. If parents can understand that video games serve this role for their children, then they may be more open-minded about video games in general. Rather than taking them away as punishment, they could be more useful as a reinforcement tool. The key, in Velez’s opinion, is making sure those playing video games after receiving a bad test score are not using it solely as an escape. It’s important that, after playing video games, students understand why they did badly on a test and what they need to do to perform better on the next one.

Messer does recommend that parents teach their children to use video games responsibly. For example, he suggests setting limits on the amount of time your children play video games and making it clear that playing them is a privilege to be earned. He also recommends talking to your child about choosing appropriate games.

Which video games should students play after receiving a bad score on a test? “I would say the game that likely produces the best outcome is the game the person is currently most engrossed with,” says Velez.

Familiar games likely make a player feel as if they’ve accomplished something meaningful, which is important in reducing defensiveness. For some kids, that might mean a little Minecraft. For others, a few matches of Destiny could help shake off that dreaded feeling of failing a test. Either way, there’s growing evidence that video games do have some valuable benefits.

Has a video game helped your child recover from a bad test score? Share in the comments!