Action videogames change brains: study

April 26, 2012

A team led by psychology professor Ian Spence at the University of Toronto reveals that playing an action videogame, even for a relatively short time, causes differences in brain activity and improvements in visual attention.

Previous studies have found differences in between action videogame players and non-players, but these could have been attributed to pre-existing differences in the brains of those predisposed to playing videogames and those who avoid them. This is the first time research has attributed these differences directly to .

Twenty-five subjects — who had not previously played videogames — played a game for a total of 10 hours in one to two hour sessions. Sixteen of the subjects played a first-person shooter game and, as a control, nine subjects played a three-dimensional puzzle game.

Before and after playing the games, the subjects' brain waves were recorded while they tried to detect a target object among other distractions over a wide visual field. Subjects who played the shooter videogame and also showed the greatest improvement on the task showed significant changes in their brain waves. The remaining subjects — including those who had played the puzzle game — did not.

"After playing the shooter game, the changes in electrical activity were consistent with brain processes that enhance visual attention and suppress distracting information," said Sijing Wu, a PhD student in Spence's lab in U of T's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study.

"Studies in different labs, including here at the University of Toronto, have shown that action can improve selective visual attention, such as the ability to quickly detect and identify a target in a cluttered background," said Spence. "But nobody has previously demonstrated that there are differences in activity which are a direct result of playing the videogame."

"Superior visual attention is crucial in many important everyday activities," added Spence. "It's necessary for things such as driving a car, monitoring changes on a computer display, or even avoiding tripping while walking through a room with children's toys scattered on the floor."

The research was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in the form of Discovery Grants to Spence and co-author Claude Alain of the Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre and U of T's Psychology Department.

The research team also included U of T PhD candidate Cho Kin Cheng, Jing Feng, a postdoc at the Rotman Research Institute, and former undergraduate student Lisa D'Angelo.

More information: The study will appear in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, published by MIT Press. Early access to uncorrected proofs of the article is available now at:

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3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2012
A more sophisticated study in the U.K. involved testing the IQ's of people from various disciplines and who were employed full-time at their jobs. The study included workers from different occupations - teachers, policeman, laborers, engineers, nurses - the whole gamut. The IQ's of the study group who had remained employed for the three or so years of the study were compared to their scores as tested before the study began. It was found that taxi drivers experienced by far the greatest increase in IQ, as many as five points, among those who had registered higher scores. The inference is obvious, keep the brain active and working to prevent deterioration, and possibly dementia, in old age.
not rated yet Apr 26, 2012
Might also have to do with the fact that our heritage rewarded quick adaptation to visual clues (or get eaten) while puzzle solving skills are more of a long term strategy and therefore would not merit a fast neural adaptation as a survival advantage.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2012
I am not surprised at the results but this has one of the key weaknesses of the same junk science people us to condemn video games: low sample size. Someone should do a larger study and don't use meta-analysis so the results can be more credible.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2012
What surprises me about this study is that they found 25 people 'who had not previously played videogames'!

Seriously though, anyone who plays FPSs regularly knows that the games improve your real life reflexes/reaction time.
not rated yet May 03, 2012
What the authors failed to measure was prefrontal cortex activity. A colleague of mine has shown that first person shooter games shut the PFC down due to illiciting constant fight-or-flight responses based on anticipation of an enemy. While their visual systems are more tuned, they can no longer concentrate. Not the best trade off.

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