hands holding a video game controllerPlaying video games may help people with dyslexia improve their reading comprehension, according to a study from Oxford University. In the study, people with dyslexia responded slowly to stimuli that alternated between auditory and visual input, but playing video games could help train the brain to switch its focus more rapidly. This could aid people with dyslexia in reading comprehension.

Lead researcher Dr. Vanessa Harrar based the study on other work showing that video games can improve attention. She also capitalized on the concept of cross-sensory attention shifting, a principle she explains using the example of being in a conversation. During a conversation, a person focuses on the auditory stimulus, but if a person hears someone behind her say her name, she will switch to focusing on visual information to identify the speaker. Harrar states that this concept of focusing and re-focusing on different stimuli is a fundamental issue in dyslexia since dyslexics have trouble shifting attention from one location to another when reading.

To determine whether cross-sensory attention shifting affected people with dyslexia more strongly than people without dyslexia, the research team asked 36 people (17 with dyslexia and 19 typical readers) to play a simple, computer-based video game. In the game, players had to respond as quickly as possible to auditory cues, visual cues, or a combination of both. People with dyslexia exhibited sluggish attention shifting compared to typical readers in responding to the game’s stimuli as it switched between auditory and visual cues.

Harrar postulates that action-oriented video games with fast-paced attention shifting could help people with dyslexia hone their cross-sensory attention shifting abilities and in turn improve reading comprehension; however, more research is required to better understand whether video games will be an effective tool for overcoming dyslexia.

“We propose that training people with dyslexia to shift attention quickly from visual to auditory stimuli and back—such as with a video game, where attention is constantly shifting focus—might also improve literacy,” concluded Harrar.

This research is published in the journal Current Biology.

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