Video Gamers Have a Visual Edge Over Non-Gamers

"Gamers see the world differently," said Greg Appelbaum, a psychiatry professor at Duke who led a new study on the subject.

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All that time spent slaying aliens and singlehandedly saving the world from melodramatic malefactors in video games may give players more than just a dopamine hit — a new study says it helps the brain’s visual center process information more quickly, too.

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That’s not a new view, by the way: We’ve long heard claims that action-oriented video games enhance aspects of vision or motor-reflex functions like hand-eye coordination. But in this Duke University-led study, the researchers wanted to narrow the range of possible physiological mechanisms that might be gaining an actual advantage. Does playing games induce better visual sensitivity? Enhanced visual memory? Better decision-making? More than one of those? All of them?

Finding the answers involved locating a sample population of both gamers and non-gamers — easier said than done when you’re studying college students, notes Duke Today. Drawing from a much larger subject group participating in another study, the researchers were able to identify 125 participants who either played games intensively or didn’t game at all.

The test, gauging how the amount of time we see something affects our ability to retain it in memory, involved flashing a circle of eight letters for one-tenth of a second at participants, who then had to wait a brief, variable amount of time before a prompt appeared asking them to identify the letter that had been at the indicated spot on the circle. The results: intensive action gamers beat non-gamers every time, regardless of the delay interval. At the same time, there was no difference between intensive gamers and non-gamers when measuring the rate of memory decay about where the letters had been — the gamers simply captured more information to begin with.

“Gamers see the world differently,” said Greg Appelbaum, a psychiatry professor at Duke who led the study. “They are able to extract more information from a visual scene.”

So which is it: Seeing better, longer visual memory, or better decision-making skills? Applebaum says the results suggest it’s not better memory, but perhaps some combination of the other two — a question the researchers hope to answer by turning next to MRI brain scans of gamers in action.

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