Shooting Virtual People Makes You Better at Paying Attention, Science Says

It's good timing for everyone to be excited about Call of Duty: Black Ops II, it seems. New research finds that playing the game, and others like it, can actively change your brain for the better.

Several previous studies have found that playing different kinds of games has a different effect on the brain, from improving players' real-life aim to helping alleviate depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. Now, a team at the University of Toronto has found that playing "action video games," by which they mean an unspecified first-person shooter, improves players' ability quickly to recognize and process visual cues.

This study included only subjects who did not previously play video games. One group of players were given an FPS to play for 10 hours; the control group, a puzzle game. Only the group that played the FPS showed the differences in brain activity:

Before and after playing the games, the subjects' brain waves were recorded while they tried to detect a target object among other distractions over a wide visual field. Subjects who played the shooter videogame and also showed the greatest improvement on the visual attention task showed significant changes in their brain waves. The remaining subjects — including those who had played the puzzle game — did not.

Previous studies had shown that people who played games displayed different brain patterns than people who did not, but the existing research couldn't conclude cause and effect; it was unclear whether perhaps people who have sharper visual acuity were more likely to seek out action-oriented games.

The researchers added that the ability to increase visual perception and attention is highly relevant for day-to-day life, including, "things such as driving a car, monitoring changes on a computer display, or even avoiding tripping while walking through a room with children's toys scattered on the floor."

So, while the effects of violence as depicted in games are still hotly debated, it seems that playing an FPS can make you better at driving, or at least at helping you not step on the stupid cat toy for the third time today (ow).

Action Videogames Change Brains, Improve Visual Attention [Science Daily]

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