Study: Action-based video games improve a person's visual perception

Wednesday, May 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Action-packed video games may offer more than just entertainment: They may make you sharper, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Rochester found that young adults who regularly played action-based video games showed better visual skills than those who didn't.

Also, they were better able to keep track of objects appearing simultaneously and processed fast-changing visual information more efficiently, said the study's co-author, Daphne Bavelier, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences.

People who don't usually play video games but were trained to play fantasy games showed enhanced visual perception, suggesting that video games may be a useful tool to help visually impaired patients or train soldiers for combat, according to the study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Parenting groups and anti-violence advocates have blamed violent video games for influencing youths to commit murders, as in the case of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, when two teenage gunmen killed a teacher and a dozen students before killing themselves.

In 2001, the families of several slain victims sued the entertainment industry, saying the shooters were influenced by violent video games and movies. A judge later dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that companies had no way of knowing their products would lead to the school shooting.

The new study did not directly address how violence found in some video games affects a person's behavior. Instead, the experiments concentrated on a person's ability to recognize and interpret symbols and letters after playing video games.

``Some people think that video games are turning kids into supergeniuses or psychokillers,'' said Kurt Squire, an educational game designer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Games-To-Teach Project, who was not part of the study.

``The reality is probably close to this where people can process visual information much quicker and be able to discern between different types of information,'' Squire said.

Military experts say soldiers who grow up playing video games do better in processing information on a screen or operating long-range unmanned aerial vehicles that can film or photograph enemy activity on the ground.

``There are some very avid video gamers in the military. The people who have been playing video games all their lives seem a lot more comfortable in some of these kinds of environments,'' said Lt. Cmdr. Russell Shilling of the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

In the Rochester study, 16 males between the ages of 18 and 23 took a series of tests that measured their ability to locate the position of a blinking object, count the number of simultaneous objects on a screen and pick out the color of an alphabet letter. Those who played video games for the past six months performed better in all those tests than those who didn't.

In a separate test, a group of 17 who never played video games were trained to play the military game ``Medal of Honor'' and the puzzle game ``Tetris.'' After playing for 10 days, those who learned ``Medal of Honor'' scored better on the performance tests than those who didn't.

Some parenting advocates viewed the study's results as limited while others blamed violence in video games for fueling a variety of social problems including aggression among youths.

``It warrants more research on the habitual video game players regarding their attitudes and behavior after playing these games,'' said Pamela Eakes, president of the Seattle-based Mothers Against Violence in America.