What happens to our attention when we play video games? The New York Times' technology reporter Matt Richtel played a video game while stuffed inside a $3 million M.R.I. scanning tube to find out.
Richtel has spent the better part of the past year exploring questions about the role attention plays in our daily lives, with many articles focusing on the effect modern technology has on our attention spans. You may remember him from a Kotaku science post back in August regarding the amount of brainpower eaten up by mobile devices.
It's in the interest of his study that Richtel allowed researchers from the University of California at San Francisco stuff him inside a tube, monitoring his brain while he played a simplistic driving game.
How can you play a video game inside of a magnetic imaging resonance machine? It's all done with mirrors these days. Richtel had to wear a special mirror contraption on his head that reflected an image from a nearby television set in order to play while being scanned. He also wore noise cancelling headphones to block out the machine noise.
While he played the driving game, shapes not related to the game would flash on the screen. Richtel took turns either ignoring the shapes or attempting to pay attention to both the game and the shapes at once.
The results of the scan were pretty much as one would expect. When trying to focus on more than one activity, areas of the brain used in setting priorities and trying to assert control were taxed.
"The results are neither surprising nor novel and consistent with existing literature," Dr. (Adam) Gazzaley explained, which I suppose is comforting, though I maintain that while I may not be a supertasker I can get a heck of a lot done after I've had a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha.
The next step in this experiment is to have his brain scanned while drinking a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha.
Read the full article below for a much more detailed explanation of why science is giving attention so much attention.
My Brain on Video Games [The New York Times]