All the arguments that have been made over the years, sometimes claiming that videos games boost mental power and at other times deriding video games for negatively affecting children’s’ brains can get confusing and feel inconclusive. The conflicting studies reflect the infancy of the research in this field.
It has however, been repeatedly proven that playing video games can improve certain skills, including task performance, perception, attention and decision-making. All of these result from one main consequence of game playing: better learning capability. The why and how of video games’ effects on the human brain were the subject of studies done by researchers at the University of Rochester and Princeton University.
Lead researcher Daphne Bavelier argues that these beneficial effects occur because playing video games assists our brains in building “templates” of the world, consequently helping the brain predict what will happen next in any given situation. “The better the template, the better the performance,” she explains. “And now we know playing action video games actually fosters better templates.”
The study in question, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had researchers looking at the capabilities of game players versus non-players in tasks which required pattern recognition and discrimination. Visual tests, much like those form the eye doctor’s office, are generally harder at first try and get easier with practice. Gamers outperformed their counterparts, apparently because they posses better mental templates than the non-players.
The next step involved volunteers with little gaming history, who were trained to play action games. Half of the subjects were asked to play 50 hours of fast-paced action games like Call of Duty; the other half of subjects played more relaxed simulation type games like The Sims. Both groups were given visual perception tests both before and afterwards. It was discovered that the subjects who played action games improved their test scores more than those who played the less-exciting games.
Furthermore, gamers and non-gamers were tested in a perceptual learning task. Right out of the gate, the two groups scored very similarly. However, with time, gamers became much more adept at the task than non-gamers. Bavalier calls this an “accelerated learning curve.” Every time that the groups were given the test over the following months, action game players continued to outdo the non-gamers – showing that the template-related perception abilities were retained over time.
While these conclusions seem straightforward, other research has solidly produced opposite results, which could result from varying scientific methods. What is for sure is that studying video gaming and its effects on the brain is not a simple matter.