Stateside brain experts say that their latest research indicates that playing action video games makes people more able to make correct decisions quickly under time pressure - potentially turning them into superior drivers, soldiers or surgeons.
"It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster," says cognitive researcher Daphne Bavelier. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."
Bavelier and her colleagues have proved this by carrying out a study in which a group of people who had not played video games previously were set to play either action offerings Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament or slo-mo strategy yawnfest The Sims 2.
Afterwards, the study participants were asked to perform tasks against the clock in which they had to look or listen, decide what was happening and answer a simple question - for instance, is an erratically-moving group of dots migrating left or right. The action-games group were able to give answers significantly faster than the strategists, with no loss of accuracy.
According to Bavelier and her colleagues, the process of playing fast-moving action games trains the brain's natural processes of "probabilistic inference", the means whereby it can build a decision by rapidly and constantly collecting pieces of information.
"The brain is always computing probabilities," explains Bavelier. "As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don't brake."
The researchers' new study, Improved Probabilistic Inference as a General Learning Mechanism with Action Video Games, can be read here by subscribers to the journal Current Biology. ®