A new study from the University of Rochester in New York, that will be published in the upcoming journal Current Biology, has proven something most gamers know, but other people may not: gamers make equally accurate decisions faster than non-gamers.
The study focused mainly on action games, most likely because that genre of gaming consists of the quickest stimuli and results in the most negative outcome (usually death), finding that gamers develop a higher sensitivity to their surroundings compared to non-gamers. The authors of the study say gamers’ fast decision-making comes from gamers having a faster probabilistic inference, which is the process by which the brain forms and refines probabilities, due to the nature of the stimuli in their games.
The first batch of tests put gamers against non-gamers, where both groups had to watch a screen of dots and decide what the common behavior of the dots were. The gamers came to the correct decision faster, which was the dots were all moving in the same direction. To make sure the outcome wasn’t based solely on visual stimuli, the researchers switched to an auditory test, in which the gamers again reached the correct solution first. Finally, to make sure the gamers weren’t coming to the solutions first due to their quicker button-pushing reflexes, the researchers set a time limit on each test where both groups had to wait until the time limit expired, at which point, they could answer whenever they reached the conclusion. When the time limit was shortened, the gamers were more accurate in their answers than the non-gamers.
The researchers suggest that gaming enhances the connection between the part of the brain that registers information and the part of the brain that analyzes it, preparing the information for decision making. They also suggest that action games make for the best games to enhance this capacity because the variety of the stimuli and the diversity of the potential solutions and outcomes mix to form an overall process that doesn’t overload the brain, thus training the brain to process information in a more efficient manner.
Funnily enough, actions games are generally viewed as the least intelligent form of gaming, considering their aim-and-shoot-then-do-a-dance-over-the-corpse-of-your-opponent nature; however, studies have shown that games specifically made to “train brains” don’t actually make the users smarter, but rather, make them better at the tasks in the specific game.
On a personal note, this study comes as no surprise. Being a lifelong gamer, I can personally attest to learning a great deal, as well as facilitating physical skill, from the wide variety of games I’ve played. Whether it be new vocabulary, new methods to solve problems, better hand-eye coordination, learning to notice minute details, or even gaining a semblance of physical rhythm and vocal pitch, gaming has taught me quite a bit.
At least now when I tell people gaming makes me good at things other than games, there is a scientific study to back it up.
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