Action games tune decision-making skills

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Video gamers make the right real-life decisions more quickly, according to scientists from the University of Rochester.

The team found that action gamers are more sensitive to what's going on around them, improving their performance at skills such as multitasking, driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around town.

The Rochester researchers tested 18- to 25-year-olds who didn't normally play video games. One group played 50 hours of the fast Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, while the other played 50 hours of the much slower-moving The Sims 2.
               
The subjects were then asked to make quick decisions in several tasks. They had to look at a screen, analyze what was going on, and answer a simple question as quickly as possible - for example, whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average.

To make sure the effect wasn't limited to just visual perception, they were also asked to complete a similar, but purely auditory, task.The action game players were up to 25 percent faster at coming to 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," co-author Daphne 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."

The authors believe that neural simulations show why this might be. The brain continuously accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information, eventually gathering enough for the person to make what they perceive to be an accurate decision.

"Decisions are never black and white," she said. "The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don't brake."

Action video game players' brains are more efficient collectors of visual and auditory information, and therefore reach the necessary threshold of information for a decision much faster than non-gamers, the researchers say.