Parents can't yell at their kids for playing video games anymore. New research in cognitive science is showing that high-action video games are enhancing the user's visual attention-span, allowing greater focus on relevant visual information.
The study reviewed in WIREs Cognitive Science showed that, "action based games (like Halo and Call of Duty) could be used to improve military training, educational approaches, and certain visual deficits." And according to Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, the paper's lead author, since the brain is constantly being bombarded with visual information, especially in our increasing media-frenzied Information Age, visual attention is critical in preventing sensory overload. This ability is crucial in the functioning of high visual activities like driving a car, or locating one object out of a seeming sea of infinity.
The study compared gamers to non-gamers in a laboratory setting, where both groups had to perform visual attention-related tasks, and this resulted in gamers consistently outperforming the non-gamers. Further studies showed that not all video games had the same enhancing effect, those benefits were left to the fast-paced, action based games that required divided attention and emphasized rapid responses.
Subsequent training studies showed seemingly quick conditioning improvements in visual attention amongst non-gamers--techniques which will certainly be targeted for improved military training, and perhaps broader education.
The implications for this visual, action-based conditioning are large, seeing that 68% of households in the U.S. alone play video games. Whether this will be utilized for the positive is our choice. But as more-and-more generations are being born into, and are growing up in, an ever more visual world, these effects will be much more prominent.
Image: "Breakout 2009 - A new frontier" by Créations du Net on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.