Videogamers no better at talking while driving

June 13, 2012

No matter how much time you've spent training your brain to multitask by playing "Call of Duty," you're probably no better at talking on the phone while driving than anybody else.

A study by the Visual Cognition Laboratory at Duke University wanted to see whether who have spent hours in front of a screen simultaneously watching the map, scanning doorways for bad guys and listening to the chatter of their fellow gamers could answer questions and drive at the same time. The finding: not so much.

"It doesn't matter how much you've trained your brain, we just aren't set up to do this," said Stephen Mitroff, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and member of the Duke Institute for .

The lab study measured the performance of 60 undergraduate students on three , and then repeated each task while the subject answered Trivial Pursuit questions over a speakerphone. "This was meant to mostly mimic a ," Mitroff says without a trace of irony.

The tasks were the video driving game "TrackMania," a standard multiple-object tracking test that is something like a video version of a shell game, and a timed paper-and-pencil administration of hidden pictures puzzles from Highlights Magazine.

The gamers, all men who regularly played first-person shooter games, were significantly better at driving TrackMania with a and pedals than the non-gamers, beating them by about 10 seconds on average. The non-gamers, 19 men and seven women, did just as well as the gamers on the multiple moving objects test and the Highlights puzzles.

It was difficult, acknowledges lead author Sarah Donahue who recently completed her Ph.D. at Duke, to find non-gaming men and gaming women on a college campus.

Performance on the driving test was most harmed by talking on the phone, though it also declined on the other two tests. The gamers drove the racetrack about 2 seconds slower while multitasking, dropping from a mean of 101.7 seconds to 103 seconds. The non-gamers were 10 seconds slower, dropping from 112.9 seconds to 122.5.

In multiple-object tracking and the image search puzzle, both gamers and non-gamers saw similar declines in performance while multi-tasking.

So for most people, Mitroff says, multitasking is probably a bad idea. But there is one small exception. A 2010 study by University of Utah psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer found five people among 200 undergraduates who truly could multitask without a loss of performance, whom they dubbed "supertaskers."

But the other 97.5 percent of humanity presumably includes the erratic guy you were commuting behind this morning, and you, for that matter.

Explore further: Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds

More information: "Cognitive Pitfall!: Video game players are not immune from dual-task costs," Sarah E. Donohue, Brittany James, Andrea N. Eslick, & Stephen R. Mitroff. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, online early June 2012. DOI: 10.3758/s13414-012-0323-y

Related Stories

Frequent gamers have brain differences, study finds

November 15, 2011
Fourteen-year-olds who were frequent video gamers had more gray matter in the rewards center of the brain than peers who didn't play video games as much - suggesting that gaming may be correlated to changes in the brain, ...

Put down that Xbox remote: Researcher suggests video games may not boost cognition

September 15, 2011
Wouldn't it be nice if all those hours kids spent glued to their PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or Nintendo DS video games actually resulted in something tangible? Better grades, perhaps? Improved concentration? Superior driving ...

Online role-playing games hurt marital satisfaction, study says

February 14, 2012
Online role playing games negatively affect real-life marital satisfaction, according to a new Brigham Young University study to be published February 15th in the Journal of Leisure Research.

Recommended for you

Babies can learn that hard work pays off

September 21, 2017
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different ...

Study links brain inflammation to suicidal thinking in depression

September 21, 2017
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have increased brain levels of a marker of microglial activation, a sign of inflammation, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry by researchers at the University of ...

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

Researchers develop new tool to assess individual's level of wisdom

September 20, 2017
Researchers at University of San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess an individual's level of wisdom, based upon a conceptualization of wisdom as a trait ...

Alcohol use affects levels of cholesterol regulator through epigenetics

September 20, 2017
In an analysis of the epigenomes of people and mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that drinking alcohol may induce changes to a cholesterol-regulating gene.

Self-control may not diminish throughout the day

September 20, 2017
After a long day of work and carefully watching what you eat, you might expect your self-control to slip a little by kicking back and cracking open a bag of potato chips.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.