Gamers Have Better Visual And Decision Making Skills
June 12, 2013

Gamers Show Better Visual And Decision-Making Skills – They See The World Differently

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Just as exercise and lifting weights can be used to boost the body´s strength, playing video games can train the brain to make better and faster decisions based on visual input. Researchers from Duke University are making this claim after conducting a study on the way the brain handles visual responses and both remembers and responds to visual scenes.

Gamers and non-gamers were pit against one another to complete this study. Gamers clearly outperformed the non-gamers, and the researchers even suggest that frequent gamers could improve upon their already heightened decision-making skills and visual memory. This study is published in the June edition of the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics.

To conduct the study, the Duke researchers sought out 125 gamers and non-gamers — the latter being a rare species on college campuses these days — to participate in the study. These volunteers were pulled from a larger group of subjects who were participating in another visual study and labeled themselves as either “non-gamers” or “very intensive gamers.”

Each of the 125 participants was then asked to complete a visual sensory memory task which consisted of flashing letters and arrows. Circular groups of eight letters flashed on a screen in front of the volunteers´ eyes for a brief period of time, only one-tenth of a second. Between 13 milliseconds and 2.5 seconds afterwards, an arrow appeared on the screen that pointed to where the circular group had just appeared. The participants were then asked to recall which letter had previously been in the spot where the arrow was pointing.

Gamers outperformed non-gamers in this test at every time interval, and Greg Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the Duke School of Medicine, says this is likely due to a gamer´s ability to visually focus on the task at hand and reject everything else.

“Gamers see the world differently," said Appelbaum in a statement. "They are able to extract more information from a visual scene."

Previous research found that not only are gamers better at retaining visual memory, but they also respond more quickly to visual stimuli and keep track of more visual elements than non-gamers. This allows them to focus on the pertinent information at hand — an incoming alien fighter ship, for instance — and pay less attention to the stars or lens flares in the background.

Appelbaum says these gamers are making “probabilistic inferences” about what´s going to happen next and that they make faster judgments based on these assumptions.

The researchers in the Duke study say there´s likely three reasons to explain why gamers consistently out performed non-gamers: Better vision, improved decision making, or better memory retention.

Appelbaum agrees with the first two possible explanations, but shies away from assuming gamers have better memories. As previous research has proven, gamers are better at reacting to visual stimuli and making the right decisions based on these visual cues, but this doesn´t necessarily require improved memory.

A November 2012 study from the University of Texas Medical Branch even found that video gaming high schoolers outperformed medical students at using virtual surgery tools. Dr. Sami Kilic recruited high school students who played an average of two hours of video games each day, gave them some brief training on robotic surgery tools, and pitted them against college students and medical residents. The high school students outperformed the rest, leading Dr. Kilic to believe that a younger, game oriented generation may be better suited to perform the robot-assisted surgeries of tomorrow.