Action games “improve visual attention”

Yet another study has been produced showing that video gaming has potential medical benefits.

The new research, carried out at the University of Rochester, looked into gaming’s effect on the processing of visual information. In particular, it examined the ability to pick up on a specific image within all the visual detail that falls into our vision, such as the ability to quickly spot a friend’s face in a crowd.

The research found that gamers consistently perform better than non-gamers in tests of these skills. The effect was strongest among those who played action games such as first-person shooters. The study also found that non-gamers exposed to such games showed improved visual attention.

The same group of researchers, led by Dr Daphne Bavelier, have previously shown that action games can improve the ability to distinguish different shades of gray. (Playing The Sims did not produce any improvement.) Another study from the group showed improvements to spatial resolution. That’s the ability to distinguish different objects or parts of an image that are close together, such as reading small, closely spaced text. And yet another study showed gaming could help reduce reaction time without affecting performance.

One of the most interesting elements of the various projects is that some of the improvements are similar to that achieved by spectacles or eye surgery, both of which change the effective shape of the eye (albeit in more or less drastic fashion.) The improvements from gaming come solely from retraining the brain to process the visual information more effectively.

To some extent, there’s a chicken-and-egg situation here, though. Although the tests all show an improvement when people are exposed to games, the point that regular gamers do better with particular skills than non-gamers isn’t necessarily a straightforward cause and effect. It may instead be that people with inherently better skills are more likely to enjoy and perform well in action games and thus be more likely to play them in the first place, in the same way that it’s debatable whether violent games make children more violent or simply attract more violent children.

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