Sorry, parents – video games are good for the mind


September 16, 2010

One of the test subjects playing an action video game (Photo: J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)

One of the test subjects playing an action video game (Photo: J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)

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For some time now, it’s been one of those “well-known facts” that playing video games increases one’s hand-eye coordination... much to the consternation of parents and spouses trying to convince family members that their obsessive gaming has no redeeming value. Now, research conducted at the University of Rochester indicates that playing action video games also increases peoples’ ability to make right decisions faster. Ironically, an activity that involves sitting on the couch helps people to think on their feet.

The U Rochester researchers tested two groups of 18- to 25-year-olds, none of whom were regular gamers. One group played 50 hours of the fast-paced games Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, while the other group played the much slower The Sims 2. Afterwards, the subjects had to perform tests that required them to make quick decisions – these included observing information on a computer (sometimes only visual, sometimes only auditory), and having to answer a question regarding that information as quickly as possible.

The action gamers answered up to 25 percent faster, and just as accurately as their Sims-playing counterparts. "It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster," said study author Daphne Bavelier. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."

The reason for their enhanced abilities is something called probabilistic inference. When surveying a situation, the brain gathers bits of visual and auditory information until it has enough to make what it considers to be an accurate decision. Action gamers’ brains are trained to gather those bits of information more efficiently, accumulating enough to make a decision more quickly than slow- or non-gamers.

"Decisions are never black and white," added Bavelier. "The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don't brake."

For whatever it’s worth, spending 50 hours playing video games – unless you’re using a Wii or PlayStation Move – could still make you fat, so the criticisms from parents and spouses are likely to continue.

The research will be published in the journal Current Biology.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Does it means that a Chess player is slow for decision making?

Leon Radford

Perhaps the title \" Sorry, parents, video games are good for the mind" is a little bit general and therefore misleading.

Increased decision making speed is not actually the be all and end all of life. The huge resource that shows people are affected by the media they interact with is overwhelmingly conclusive.

Therefore the decision to shoot or not to shoot, to run someone over or not, etc do have effects on peoples world view. Now as a serious subject it is perhaps beyonds Gizmags remit to indulge in serious views. However perhaps Ben Coxworth would like to delve deeper, I can provide links. The lauding of simple speed of decisions as a vindication of action games involving killing people as it primary purpose may not seem so correct.

I am not to keen on a future where people see decisions being made quickly as superior to ones that are mulled over. Also that killing , which is a black and white decision, does not allow for shades of grey in a real complex world.

In my view rather a trivialising piece of research - I wonder who funded it?



While I appreciate that not all decisions should be made as quickly as possible, a great many of the daily decisions people make are indeed better when made quicker.

I am a pilot. During the extensive training that I have been through, one aspect has been focused on more than any other: Aeronautical Decision Making. ADM is not only how to make proper decisions, but making them quickly. At many point during a flight, being even a second quicker in reaction time can mean the difference between life and death. Many of these are not black and white decisions either, but nuanced, with many different options to choose from.

Fast paced action games deliver the same kind of nuanced decisions. It\'s not only whether or not to pull the trigger, but movement, tactics, strategies and resource management; all decisions that must be made, nearly simultaneously, then evaluated while making yet more decisions. The goal is not only to make fast choices, but to make the correct choices.

Jeb Bailey

Jeb, thank you for your comment. We both agree quick decisions can be useful. However unlike RL those games allow players to restart without any detrimental effects - not a very good way to condition a mind is it.

However I am not sure what games revolving around murder offer that is superior to jet-fighting/flying games in speeding reflexes and making decisions.


Patrick most flying games (unlike actual flying) require very little quick reflexes, or decision making, in war flying games such as tom clancy\'s H.A.W.X there is much more, however, this means the game is once again based around \"murder\". although, to point out one of the many, many mistakes in your comment, only braindead 9-year-olds whose parents don\'t know the difference between a pg and a ma would spend 2 hours playing COD: 7 and \"killing\" Computer generated objects, then pick up a machine gun and kill the people in the street, it\'s just not logical, any player who can survive more then 2 minutes without spray\'n\'preyin\' would be intelligant enough to know not to do that in \"RL\",a term reserved for us who enjoy all forms of video games for what they are;a form of entertainment, or an escape from reality, if we could do these things in RL then we wouldn\'t need video games.

Lawrence Enzyme
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