Sept 13, 2010 -- Action video games teach you to think and act quickly and accurately inside and outside of the box, according to a new study in Current Biology.
People who played action video games for 50 hours were just as accurate and significantly faster at making decisions, compared to gamers who played strategy-oriented or role-playing video games for the same amount of time. And this prowess was evident on non-game-related tasks that called for quick decision-making, the study showed.
"Action video games are fast-paced, and there are peripheral images and events popping up, and disappearing," says study researcher C. Shawn Green, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at the Kersten Computational Vision Lab at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Green was at the University of Rochester, N.Y., when the new study was conducted.
"These video games are teaching people to become better at taking sensory data in, and translating it into correct decisions," he says.
In brain labs, this ability is called “probabilistic inference,” and it refers to how we process the information we have when we need to make a snap decision.
"There is always some uncertainty about what is going on," Green says. "Our eyes don’t take in everything and our ears don't either, so you take the sensory data that you have, and make a decision based on the probability of being right.”
Action Games Improve Decision-Making Speed
In the new study of 18- to 25-year-old non-gamers, one group played 50 hours of action-packed video games, while the other played a slow-moving strategy game for the same amount of time. Participants were then asked to perform two specific decision-making tasks in the lab. The first task involved determining whether a bunch of moving white dots were going right or left. The second task measured their ability to tell if a single pitched tone was heard in their right or left ear while wearing a pair of headphones that emitted white noise.
"Action video games help you make faster decisions across the board because you are learning to translate what you are seeing or hearing into correct probability," Green says.
"Action gamers are not trigger happy or impulsive," he says. "They press the button faster, and are just as accurate," he says.
This quality is beneficial for people in the military or police officers who must think quickly on their feet with little margin for error, he says.
"The new results are consistent with previous studies done by this excellent group of researchers and also with
results from our lab," says Ian Spence, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
"First-person shooter games can change the brain, improving several low level perceptual functions, sometimes dramatically," he says. Perceptual functions are the various brain functions involved in seeing, hearing, smelling, he says.
"Once we get a better handle on what is going on we may be able to offer guidelines for game design that
retain the perceptual training features of first-person shooter games, but without the violence that discourages some people from playing these games," he says.
Moderation Is Key
"We knew that there were hand-eye coordination benefits to video games, and now we know there are decision-making benefits with these games too," says Edward Hallowell, MD, a psychiatrist and the founder of the Hallowell Centers in New York City and Boston.
"It's the quickness of these action games, not the content," he says. "You have to make decisions and manipulate your fingers in a heartbeat."
The reason video games get a bad rap is not the games per se, Hallowell says. "It is when they are played to the exclusion of all other activities."