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They help train the brain in making quick, accurate decisions, study suggests.


Contrary to popular belief, playing video games is a not waste of time.  Video game players may actually be better thinkers than most.  Video games force gamers to be fast on their feet.  Action-games in particular encourage players to better use evidence drawn from their senses in decision-making. 

According to 
Business Week and WebMD a new study in the Current Biology journal suggests that video game play helps gamers develop a skill known as "probabilistic inference", which refers to how we process the information we have when we need to make a snap decision.

Video game players absorb information quickly and make sound snap decisions, the research indicates.

"They are making more efficient use of the information that is out there," said C. Shawn Green, postdoctoral associate at the Kersten Computational Vision Lab at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.  

"Video game players pull more information from the sensory world, related to the decisions facing them."

The research suggests that this skill only applied to action games, specifically "shooter games" like
Halo. Strategy and role-playing games, did not have the same impact.

"The games are teaching them to learn how to learn, to learn how to solve new tasks rapidly," Green said.

The researchers tested two groups for a total of 50 hours.  One group spent 50 hours playing a strategy game while the other group played a shooter game. The subjects who played action video games were faster, yet just as accurate as the subjects who played strategy or role-playing games for the same duration of time.

Green said these video games are teaching people to become better at taking sensory data in, and translating it into correct decisions. 

"There is always some uncertainty about what is going on. Our eyes don’t take in everything and our ears don't either, so you take the sensory data that you have, and make a decision based on the probability of being right," said Green.

According to Ian Spence, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, the new findings are consistent with previous studies. 

"Perceptual functions are the various brain functions involved in seeing, hearing, smelling," stated Spence.

Spence added that in the future, researchers may be able to offer guidelines for game design that would retain the perceptual training features of first-person shooter games, without the violence that discourages some people from playing them.

The study suggests real-world applications for this research in the future. 

The U.S. armed forces has used video games for military training in the past.


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Well yeah, when you train you aquire skills
By MrTeal on 9/15/2010 1:51:31 PM , Rating: 2
Contrary to popular belief, playing video games is a not waste of time. Video game players may actually be better thinkers than most. Video games force gamers to be fast on their feet. Action-games in particular encourage players to better use evidence drawn from their senses in decision-making.

Not to bash video games, as I enjoy them as much as anyone, but couldn't this be said for many things that require quick decisions? I would imagine that if they did a study of people who mountain bike vs people who use a stationary bike at the gym they would find a similar increase in decision making ability. The difference is you get a little fresh air and some exercise.

RE: Well yeah, when you train you aquire skills
By Motoman on 9/15/2010 1:55:01 PM , Rating: 3
Yes and no. As a motorcycle race, I can appreciate the point you're making - you have a couple fractions of a second to decide what you're doing next, or you crash your brains out. Failure hurts.

BUT - these aren't necessarily the same kinds of decisions. Mountain biking and motocross require sort of an appreciation for physics and mechanics. Which is important. But video gaming frequently works more of your Logic Unit, if you will. It's more about problem solving, critical thinking, etc.

By Mojo the Monkey on 9/15/2010 5:27:57 PM , Rating: 2
You missed the OP's point entirely. You run into new situations, (new terrain/drops, a guy walking his dog around a blind corner, etc) and need to adapt quickly or you're going to crash. This is absorbing information from surroundings and making decisions of what to do about it. The understanding of physics and mechanics only allows you to execute that plan more effectively.

By Hieyeck on 9/16/2010 8:27:17 AM , Rating: 3
I think you're missing the reply's point entirely. Yes biking trains skills, but those skills are more focused around how to keep you and your bike together upright (aka physics) rather than say... how to layout a base to counter a zerg rush. Truth be told, this study not only applies to video games, but other mind games in general - chess; go; mastermind (barring random guessing); heck, even connect4.

RE: Well yeah, when you train you aquire skills
By VahnTitrio on 9/15/2010 2:32:47 PM , Rating: 2
I think there is a much wider variety of decisions made in FPS games. Many of them are subtle and really don't get noticed. Most have to do with spacial relations and timing.

And let's be honest, I think everyone has had the "I'm going to try something stupid" moments. The probability of success is low, but if it succeeds it'll be awesome. Much better to try those out in the video game world than the real world.

By Omega215D on 9/15/2010 4:30:40 PM , Rating: 5
All my decisions in Sim City 4 lead to a bankrupt and decrepit city...

Vote for me to be mayor next election!

RE: Well yeah, when you train you aquire skills
By MrBlastman on 9/15/2010 2:45:52 PM , Rating: 3
I don't neccesarily think so. Playing Team Fortress 2 at the pro-level requires an insane amount of decision making ability, much of it as the article explains, is very probabilistic in trying to outthink and outwit your opponent, be it an individual demoman (those pigs), a wyly scout (those foxes) or an entire pro-level team in 8's and 6's.

For instance, you can throw two or three pro-level guys into a new team and the team will play versus above-average players, the above-average team can still win and by a large margin, only due to their level of organization and decision-making.

Competitve FPS is surprisingly thought intensive.

Mountain biking--yes, it requires thought, but, I dare say that downhill Mountain Biking requires a great deal more thought and decision making ability than cross-country Mountain Biking. A stationary bike--a mouth breathing sloth could ride one of those.

By Mojo the Monkey on 9/15/2010 5:30:11 PM , Rating: 2
There are actually other studies that suggest that strategy and RTS games improve complex problem solving and multi-tasking abilities... which makes sense if you're trying to keep track of unit production, uprage ladders, resource gathering, offense, defense, etc.

Looks like different types of games help with different things.

WoW helps with nothing, however.

By bighairycamel on 9/15/2010 5:45:10 PM , Rating: 2
RTS games definately improve macro management skills above all else, which can be a good trait for successful business management (to the proper degree).

As far as WoW, yes when 75% of players stand in fire while their screen flashes red and the entire monitor is consumed by flames while ear wrenching sounds are going off all around warning them of their impending doom, yet they still die, you know the probabilistic inference isn't quite working properly.

By Hieyeck on 9/16/2010 8:30:37 AM , Rating: 2
WoW teaches the ability to focus on mundane tasks while ignoring all other distractions perfectly.

Kind of like a job.

By MrBlastman on 9/16/2010 9:29:17 AM , Rating: 2
I'll buy that, for sure. RTS definitely improves complex thinking, planning and execution plus the ability to change operational structure on the fly. Especially games like Supreme Commander (before the addon) and StarCraft (1 and 2 though I haven't played 2 enough yet).

RE: Well yeah, when you train you aquire skills
By TSS on 9/15/2010 2:51:18 PM , Rating: 3
The difference isn't in making fast decisions, the difference is in the number of fast decisions.

I've spend my childhood playing games, shooters mostly. I've also done real life paintball for a while. The difference between the 2 is simple. If i get shot during paintball, i'll have to get off the battlefield and wait till everybody is done. Which can take up to 30 minutes if you're the first off the field. If i get shot in say, Bad Company 2, there's a 15 second respawn timer before i can try and wage war again.

If i crash in a racing game, i restart the map. If i crash racing in real life... well it'll depend on the time i have to spend in hospital before i can go at it again.

Also shooters train your reaction time. At the peak of my capabilities, i've tested my reaction time as beeing 0.075 seconds. I did that 3 times in a row, so it wasn't just a fluke. The average reaction time is 0.2 seconds.

The reason why gamers aren't just fast, but effective too, is simply because it's not about pulling the trigger as fast as you can. The simplest example is when your assaulting and somebody walks around the corner right infront of you.

First you have to determine if it's an enemy or not, as shooting friendlies costs points. Then you have to determine if there is an higher priority target, aka somebody who has already seen/is expecting you. Then you need to know if there are additional targets that will hear you fire. All the while you have to track, but not fire, you're target with your gun. This all determines 1 thing: Am i going to shoot, or am i going to take cover?

And this needs to be determined as fast as possible. Because i'll determine all that in 0.075 seconds. And i do mean determine, because you can also use a scare reflex, which'll half your reaction time but simplify the above to "just shoot". Which'll cost points if it is indeed a friendly infront of you. Which i've also shot plenty of times, but because it's a game i won't go to jail, i'll simply lose 1 kill worth of points.

This is why games are extremely effective at training you in decision making, because that's all you're doing the entire time. And making the right decisions rewards you with beeing ontop of the list and beeing able to say, "In your face nubbies!".

But it has a price. You can switch off the game, but you cannot switch off your mind. In the time you make 1 decision, i'll have made 3. So if i'm with *anybody*, i'll have made the decision for them before they even know they have to make a decision. So to actually wait for them to make it, is hell every time.

If that sounds vague, just imagine going shopping with your girlfriend, then imagine beeing 3 times faster with your own decisions then you currently are. Needless to say, i never go shopping.

By WW102 on 9/16/2010 1:30:29 PM , Rating: 1
And this needs to be determined as fast as possible. Because i'll determine all that in 0.075 seconds.


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