Boy With Headphones Playing Video GameVideo games may have more to offer than simple entertainment. A study from Brown University finds that people who play video games have better gains on certain visual tasks than those who do not play video games. The study also found that gamers were able to learn the visual tasks faster than the non-gamers. The results suggest that video game play has applications beyond hobbies and entertainment.

The researchers wanted to determine if gamers were better at learning a series of visual tasks than non-gamers. Normally, when a person is trained to improve on a task, she only retains the improvements if she has time to mentally consolidate the new information. When a person moves on to learning a new task too quickly, the new task interferes with the consolidation of the previous task.

For the study, the participants—nine frequent video game players and nine people who rarely or never played video games—learned two tasks in two days. Each task was a standard visual processing test, called a ‘texture discrimination task’, which required players to identify anomalies in on-screen textures in a very short time frame. On the first day, the participants did each task in a randomized order. On the second day, the participants did each task again so the researchers could find out if they improved.

The frequent gamers improved on both tasks, but the non-gamers only improved on the second task they had trained on. This indicates that, for the non-gamers learning the second task interfered with the consolidation of the first task. Both the gamers and the non-gamers improved their speed and accuracy on the second task by approximately 15 percent. The gamers also improved on the first task by about 11 percent, but the non-gamers’ performance worsened by about 5 percent.

The findings suggest that gamers have a more efficient process for visual task learning. However, the study does not demonstrate whether the gamers improved their ability to learn visual tasks as a result of playing video games or if people who play video games have an innately greater capacity for visual learning. If there is a causal relationship between playing video games and visual learning, then it would suggest that playing video games increases an individual’s capacity for visual learning.

The researchers explain that, “A lot of people still view video games as a time-wasting activity even though research is beginning to show their beneficial aspects. If we can demonstrate that video games may actually improve some cognitive functioning, perhaps we, as a society, can embrace newer technology and media with positive applications.

This research is published in the journal PLOS One.

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