Both! – The next time you cocoon over a video game (when you’re supposed to be working?), ask yourself this: Are video games good or bad? Sometimes they can be useful.
Video games have grown in popularity to the point where 68% of American households have members that play them. Cognitive scientists have discovered that playing action video games trains people to make the right decisions faster. The researchers found that video game players develop a heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them, and this benefit doesn’t just make them better at playing video games, but improves a wide variety of general skills that can help with everyday activities like multitasking, driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around town. In fact, researchers Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green report that video games could provide a potent training regimen for speeding up reactions in many types of real-life situations.
The researchers tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video game players. They split the subjects into two groups. One group played 50 hours of a fast-paced action video game and the other group played 50 hours of a slow-moving strategy game. After this training period, all of the subjects were asked to make quick decisions in several tasks designed by the researchers. In the tasks, the participants had to look at a screen, analyze what was going on, and answer a simple question about the action in as little time as possible (i.e. whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average). You guessed it: The action game players were up to 25% faster at coming to a conclusion and answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game playing peers.
Bavelier says, “It’s not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster. 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.”
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