Dr. Daphne Bavelier is a cognitive researcher who gave an informative and surprising TED talk about how video games can positively affect the brain. From sensational news stories equating video games to violent behavior, to parents chastising their kids for playing games, it is refreshing to know that this hobby I hold dear can produce cognitive benefits according to recent scientific studies.
The central type of game she focuses on during her talk are what she calls “action games” or FPS (first person shooter) games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. Highlights include debunking the myth that increased screen time makes your eyesight worse. People that play action games actually scored better than non-gamers in two distinct categories: ability to resolve small detail in the context of clutter and ability to resolve different levels of gray. Dr. Bavelier states that the former is utilized when reading fine print on a prescription bottle while the latter is helpful when driving in fog.
Another interesting finding is that gamers have a better ability to track things around the world. A typical normal young adult can have up to three to four objects of attention while gamers double that to six or seven objects of attention. This makes sense as fast paced games task the player with continuous monitoring of their surroundings, whether it is checking for nearby threats or keeping an eye on the mini-map and their health.
Using brain imaging, it has been discovered that video games cause positive changes to areas of the brain that control attention such as the parietal cortex (orientation of attention), frontal lobe (sustaining attention), and anterior cingulate (allocation/regulation of attention and conflict resolution). Imaging has shown that these areas are more efficient in gamers.
I highly recommend watching her entire 18 minute presentation at the top of this post. Dr. Bavelier isn’t telling people to play 10 hours of ‘Call of Duty’ daily, as moderation is still a key component. In addition, she advocates for the creation of games that are geared specifically towards training and rehabbing the brain while still being fun. Until then, I’ll continue to play Battlefield and call it my “brain workout”, knowing it might be slightly less of a waste of time!