Earlier studies have shown that playing video games can lead to better skills in people, but most of these improved aptitude levels were directly co-related to the skills that are virtually represented and required by the video game. In other words, a first person shooter can have its effect in real-world gun handling. But this time around, researchers in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester have found out more ‘collective’ benefits of playing fast-paced games that go beyond singular skills. According to their study (co-headed by professor Daphne Bavelier), players can become better learners in an overall scope – by virtue of their gaming experiences that require quick reflexes and decision making.
This improved ambit of cognition is based on the pattern of predictions made on the part of the human brain. For example, in a typical first person shooter scenario, when your character is moving through a dilapidated urban jungle, the player’s attention is ‘automatically’ tuned to inconspicuous windows and upper-level balconies – the favorite hiding spot of enemies. This allows one to nigh instantly fire his/her weapon when the enemy rears its unfortunate head above the parapet. In essence, the brain predicts the pattern of the situation, and for this estimation it needs to build models or ‘templates’ of the world. And of course, as we can comprehend from the above example – the better the template, the better the performance and execution of the task.
To that end, the scientists have found out that action games can lead to better template building ability. This in turn can have its positive effect on numerous other tasks, ranging from listening, driving to even performing surgical actions. To start out with the basis of the experiment, the research team formulated a visual training program that pitted the video game players against non-gaming individuals, and the results showed that the video game players performed better than their non-gaming counterparts. This performance advantage was found to be mostly due to better template building capacity.
The researchers then moved on to the next experiment to determine if these action game players were already endowed with improved templates, or if the games they played resulted in the improvement of these brain-made templates. For this, the scientists intentionally chose a group of individuals who had very little experience in playing action games. They divided up the group, and asked one of the sub-groups to play a game like Call of Duty for 50 hours over the course of nine weeks, and asked the other sub-group members to play a non-action, slower paced game like The Sims for the same time period. Once again, the results pertained to better template building abilities on the part of the people who played the action video game, after the specific time interval.
These template-oriented capabilities of the tested subjects were found to be constructed by their brains in a pretty rapid and intuitive manner. In other words, the learning scope was enhanced that rather aided in the development of the templates ‘on the fly’. And quite impressively, the decisive effect of this virtual interaction was not short-lived. On the contrary, the action game playing subjects were found to perform better than the other participants even months (or in some cases, a year) after the initial experiment was over.
Now, the researchers are looking forth to gauge cognitive advantages that can be potentially acquired from other fast paced games excluding typical shooters. This might just open up new advantageous avenues (relating to metal faculties) for gaming enthusiasts who actively take part in more strategic simulations like Starcraft or Dota 2.