University of Toronto researchers have discovered playing an action video game causes differences in brain activity and improvements in visual attention.
A team led by psychology professor Dr. Ian Spence discovered the brain changes occur even when an individual engages the game for a relatively short period.
Previous studies have found differences in brain activity between action video game players and non-players, but these could have been attributed to pre-existing differences in the brains of those predisposed to playing video games and those who avoid them.
Researchers say the current experiment is the first to show that the brain changes were directly related to playing video games.
In the study, 25 subjects — who had not previously played videogames — played a game for a total of 10 hours in one- to two-hour sessions. Sixteen of the subjects played a first-person shooter game and, as a control, nine subjects played a three-dimensional puzzle game.
Researchers measured individuals’ brain waves before and after playing the games. Brain waves were recorded when subjects tried to detect a target object among other distractions over a wide visual field.
Subjects who played the shooter video game showed the greatest improvement on the visual attention task and also exhibited significant changes in their brain waves. The remaining subjects — including those who had played the puzzle game — did not.
“After playing the shooter game, the changes in electrical activity were consistent with brain processes that enhance visual attention and suppress distracting information,” said Sijing Wu, a Ph.D. student and lead author of the study.
“Studies in different labs, including here at the University of Toronto, have shown that action video games can improve selective visual attention, such as the ability to quickly detect and identify a target in a cluttered background,” said Spence. “But nobody has previously demonstrated that there are differences in brain activity which are a direct result of playing the video game.”
“Superior visual attention is crucial in many important everyday activities,” added Spence. “It’s necessary for things such as driving a car, monitoring changes on a computer display, or even avoiding tripping while walking through a room with children’s toys scattered on the floor.”
The study will appear in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, published by MIT Press.
Source: University of Toronto