Playing action video games improves not only the skills needed for the game, but also learning skills in general, according to a new study by the University of Rochester.
“Prior research by our group and others has shown that action gamers excel at many tasks. In this new study, we show they excel because they are better learners,” said Daphne Bavelier, Ph.D., a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.
“And they become better learners,” she said, “by playing the fast-paced action games.”
Our brains keep predicting what will come next — whether we’re listening to a conversation, driving, or performing surgery, said Bavalier.
“In order to sharpen its prediction skills, our brains constantly build models, or ‘templates,’ of the world,” she explained. “The better the template, the better the performance. And now we know playing action video games actually fosters better templates.”
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared action video gamers’ visual performances with those of individuals who did not play action video games.
The action gamers outperformed the non-action gamers, and the key to their performance was that their brains used a better template for the task at hand.
The team conducted another experiment to determine if regular players of fast-paced, action-rich video games may be endowed with better templates independently of their game play, or if the game play caused them to have better templates.
To find out, the researchers recruited people with little gaming experience and asked them to play 50 hours of video games for nine weeks. One group played action video games, e.g., Call of Duty. The second group played 50 hours of non-action video games, such as The Sims.
The trainees were tested on a pattern discrimination task before and after their training. The test showed that the action video games players improved their templates, compared to the non-action control group. The researchers then started to investigate how action video games may foster better templates.
When the researchers gave action gamers a perceptual learning task, the action video game players were able to build and fine tune templates quicker than the non-action game participants. And they did so on the fly.
“When they began the perceptual learning task, action video gamers were indistinguishable from non-action gamers; they didn’t come to the task with a better template,” said Bavelier. “Instead, they developed better templates for the task, much, much faster showing an accelerated learning curve.”
Furthermore, when tested several months to a year later, the action-trained participants still outperformed the other participants, suggesting that they retained their ability to build better templates.
The researchers are investigating which characteristics in action video games are conducive to learning.
“Games other than action video games may be able to have the same effect,” she said. “They may need to be fast-paced, and require the player to divide his or her attention, and make predictions at different time scales.”
Source: University of Rochester