A recent UR study has attracted the attention of some of the most prominent news organizations and scientific publications in the country — CNN, www.sciencedaily.com and National Geographic to name a few.
The study found that individuals who play action video games show faster decision-making response times, without sacrificing the accuracy of their judgments.
According to University of Minnesota Psychology Professor Shawn Green, who worked with UR Brain and Cognitive Sciences Professor Daphne Bavelier on the study, playing action video games appears to help individuals not just with a specific task, but with a wide range of visual and cognitive abilities.
“This type of broad transfer is in contrast to the typical result in the perceptual learning literature, wherein training most often leads to extremely specific learning that does not transfer to even seemingly similar tasks,” Green said.
Green, who has been studying the effects of video games for over a decade, says that the study aimed to discover whether these benefits are the result of many individual skills learned by playing video games or of a greater psychological mechanism that video games strengthen. The study found the latter to be true — video games heighten an individual’s “probabilistic inference,” or their ability to use snippets of data to make a quick decision based on the most probable solution.
The same results were not supported with slow, puzzle-based video games — the effects are thought to arise from the quick, unpredictable challenges presented by action games. Additionally, although men tend to make up the vast majority of the video game-playing demographic, the study found that this increase in probabilistic inference is just as prominent in women.
In the first part of their experiment, Green and Bavelier studied 11 regular video game players and 12 individuals who reported not having played an action game in the past year. All of the subjects were male and 19 to 20 years old. Subjects were presented with a set of moving dots and had to determine in which direction the majority of them were moving.
The video game-playing group showed quicker response times, especially in the more difficult trials, and comparable accuracy.
In another part of the experiment, seven men and seven women were instructed to play action video games for a total of 50 hours each, while seven men and four women had to play a “Sims”-like game for the same amount of time. Both groups then performed the same moving dot task.
Again, the action gamer group performed the task better, both showing that the results are gender-independent and pinpointing them to action video games.
According to Green, these results may indeed have practical everyday applications, whether or not we’re aware of them.
“I’m not sure anyone would claim these tasks are a perfect model of choosing between Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson as the No. 1 pick in your fantasy football draft. However, although people don’t tend to think in this manner, every action one makes in a day requires a decision to be made,” Green said. “If you’re driving and see a moving object a ways head, you have to decide whether to slow down because you believe the object is a deer, or keep going because you believe the object is a small tree blowing in the wind.”
Several studies are currently being conducted on other benefits video games might have, such as increasing the perceptual abilities of the elderly or increasing a surgeon’s ability to operate.
To Green, however, perhaps the most exciting new video game studies are the ones looking at taking themes from popular video games and applying them to more serious areas, such as education.
Fleming is a member of the class of 2013.