Video games could provide a useful and effective training tool for speeding up reactions in real-life situations according to a study published in the journal, Current Biology.
Authors Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green report that games increase sensitivity to our surroundings, a benefit that improves a wide variety of skills in general life, including multitasking, driving, navigating, keeping track of friends in a crowd and even reading small print.
Researchers from the University of Rochester tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily game players. Subjects were split into two groups. The first played 50 hours of the fast-moving first-person shooting games Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, while the second group played 50 hours of the comparatively slow-moving game The Sims 2.
Following the training sessions, each subject was asked to make quick decisions in several auditory and visual tasks designed by the researchers, for example, estimating whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average.
Players in the action game group were up to 25 percent faster at reaching a conclusion and answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game playing peers.
"It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: they are just as accurate and also faster," Bavelier said. "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."
However, it appears that these benefits of video games stem primarily from action games, which almost always means "shooter games, where you go through a maze and you don't know when a villain will appear," Bavelier said. "It's not exactly what you'd think of as mind enhancing. Strategy or role-playing games were not found to have the same effect."
The scientists suggest that reason for such broad improvements in performance may be that action video games don't have a clear 'answer.' but are inherently unpredictable.
"Unlike standard learning paradigms, which have a highly specific solution, there is no such specific solution in action video games because situations are rarely, if ever, repeated," the report concludes. "Thus, the only characteristics that can be learned are how to rapidly and accurately learn the statistics on the fly and how to accumulate this evidence more efficiently."