Blowing away enemy soldiers and aliens may be good for the brain, as researchers have found that fast-paced action video games improve a player’s learning ability.
The study was funded by the Office of Naval Research, the Swiss National Foundation, the Human Frontier Science Program and the National Eye Institute.
“People who play action video games get better much faster,” said Daphne Bavelier, a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester in New York. “They are better able to multitask, perform cognitive tasks such as rotating objects in their minds and focus and retain information better than non-players,”
They also have better vision. The reason is the games help people learn, even those who aren’t regular players.
The skills are seemingly unrelated to each other and hard to practice, she said.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains the diverse benefits that stem from faster learning. The insights from the study may be used to improve education or to help people with strokes or other brain injuries.
Players were better able to predict what was coming next, even when they were asked to identify patterns that had nothing to do with the game. Non-gamers also improved after researchers assigned them to play a game like “Call of Duty” for as long as two hours a day, five times a week for two months. The benefits lasted as long as a year.
“I can show that playing the video game itself improves their performance,” said Bavelier. “But all video games don’t lead to improvement.”
The fast-paced games, generally first- or third-person shooting video games, created better learners. An examination of how their brains were wired showed the connectivity adapted as the games progressed, Bavelier said.
The researchers are now examining the details of each game to try to tease out which elements are critical for improved learning, she said in a telephone interview. They are designing a non-violent game that includes the elements they believe are important for learning, aimed at children ages 8 to 12.
For children, teenagers and young adults who do play video games, the findings aren’t an excuse to spend hours a day in front of a screen or to avoid homework, she said. While learning improves, other measures of brain function may worsen.
“This is no excuse for binging,” Bavelier said. “We know that kids who spend a lot of time on computers do less well at school. If you spend too much time on this new media, you spend less time on homework and you will do less well.”