The cognitive benefits of video games

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© Edward Bock/Corbis

Video games are a controversial topic these days. Do popular games cater enough to a female audience? Can interactive games introduce a new forum for sexual predators? Is there such a thing as video game addiction? Yet, for all of the negative perceptions and criticisms of video games, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting their benefits as well. A study published this past September suggests that playing Tetris can make your brain more efficient. Some medical education programs are supplementing training with Second Life sessions. And, most recently, a review of previous research on video games published in Current Directions in Psychological Science finds that regularly playing video games not only improves your skill at those particular games, but may also improve your reaction time and accuracy on real-life tasks.

The findings of the review contradict the assumption that while regular gamers can get faster at certain games, they lose accuracy—or become “trigger happy”—in the process. Not so, say researchers from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. In tests where participants were instructed to view a monitor and respond when an object appeared in the target area, but ignore objects that appeared outside of the target area, gamers proved to be faster, but not more impulsive, than non-gamers.

Researchers say that these findings indicate the benefits of certain video games for improving cognitive processing and accuracy, and may indicate practical applications for video game play—to close the gender gap sometimes seen in certain aspects of visual and spatial processing, or to slow the cognitive aging process in older people, for example.