A new study suggests that playing action video games can improve learning capabilities in general — not only those pertaining to skills learned in the game.
The study, Action Video Game Play Facilitates the Development of Better Perceptual Templates, discovered that people who play video games like Call of Duty were better at multi-tasking, performing cognitive tasks, and focusing and retaining information than those who did not play such games. In addition, players typically have better vision.
“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,” explained Daphne Bavelier, 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.”
Bavelier said it comes down to our brain’s ability to decide what will come next, whether it be while driving a car, taking part in a conversation, or at work. “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 game actually fosters better templates.”
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared action video game players’ visual performance to that of non-game players using a pattern discrimination task.
Researchers found that the game-players outperformed the non-game players and were able to connect this to their brains using a better template for the task they were being asked to accomplish.
The team then performed an experiment designed to show whether or not video game players could create these templates on their own, or if it was the act of playing the games that was causing the better templates.
Non-video game players were asked to play games for 50 hours over nine weeks. One group played action games such as Call of Duty, while another group played a non-action video game like The Sims.
Pattern discrimination testing was performed before and after the video game playing, finding that the action game players had improved their templates when compared to the non-action game players.
“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.”
Researchers also discovered that the improvements made on performance of video game players has a lasting effect. Testing resumed several months to a year later with the same participants, with results showing the action gamers still outperformed other participants.
Bavelier is currently looking into which characteristics in action video games are responsible for boosting a player’s ability to learn. “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.”