Action Video Games Can Boost Brain Functions: But, Which Ones and for Whom?

Play­ing action video games a lot can boost per­for­mance in a vari­ety of sen­so­ry, per­cep­tu­al, and atten­tion­al tasks, even in tasks very dif­fer­ent from the ones involved in the game play.

A recent study sug­gests that action video games improve a key aspect of deci­sion-mak­ing: The abil­i­ty to infer quick­ly the prob­a­bil­i­ty that a giv­en answer is cor­rect on the basis of lim­it­ed evi­dence (“prob­a­bilis­tic infer­ence”). Such an abil­i­ty is used in many basic per­cep­tu­al and sen­so­ry tasks, which would explain the gen­er­al trans­fer of train­ing ben­e­fits observed for players.

In the study one group played 50 hours of the fast-paced action video games “Call of Duty 2” and “Unre­al Tour­na­ment,” and the oth­er group played 50 hours of the slow-mov­ing strat­e­gy game “The Sims 2.” After train­ing, the action game play­ers gave accu­rate answers faster than the strat­e­gy game play­ers in both visu­al and audi­to­ry tasks. These tasks involved, for instance, deter­min­ing as fast as pos­si­ble the over­all direc­tion of a group of ran­dom­ly mov­ing dots or iden­ti­fy­ing with which ear they heard a tone con­cealed in white noise.

Com­ment: In an ear­li­er post I rea­soned that to be suc­cess­ful, brain train­ing has to tar­get rel­e­vant and spe­cif­ic brain func­tions. If you prac­tice play­ing base­ball you do not expect to get bet­ter at play­ing bas­ket­ball. In the same way if you want to improve your ver­bal skills you should not expect to do so by train­ing your visu­ospa­tial skills. This study shows that this may be true only for spe­cif­ic, high-lev­el func­tions.  Indeed, here train­ing prob­a­bilis­tic infer­ence ben­e­fit­ed sev­er­al per­cep­tu­al and sen­so­ry tasks. So, it may be that the more basic the func­tion trained, the more tasks the func­tion will be involved in and thus the more tasks will ben­e­fit from the train­ing. Some­thing to keep in mind when choos­ing which men­tal activ­i­ty may be the right one for you.

Who may ben­e­fit from the sen­so­ry improve­ment pro­vid­ed by play­ing action video games? Many peo­ple for whom it is impor­tant to make quick deci­sions based on visu­al or audi­to­ry infor­ma­tion (if you are a sur­geon or in the mid­dle of a bat­tle field). Focus­ing on vision, Daphne Bave­lier, one of the authors of the study, sug­gest­ed that “inter­ven­tions that include action videogame play as a com­po­nent could be used to enhance the visu­al abil­i­ties (and thus the over­all qual­ity of life) of many who suf­fer from low vision.[…] Since excel­lent vision and visu­al atten­tion are impor­tant skills for many pro­fes­sions (mil­i­tary per­son­nel, taxi dri­vers, fire­fight­ers, and most ath­letes, to cite a few), it is like­ly that a large por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion could ben­e­fit from the enhance­ments dis­cussed here.”

Relat­ed posts:


  1. Health Life Zone on January 12, 2011 at 9:51

    I use to play GTA VICE City… ;)

  2. Sascha Lührs on January 14, 2011 at 7:08

    That study can be found at

    The full text can be found for free by search­ing google for “Improved Prob­a­bilis­tic Infer­ence as a Gen­er­al Learn­ing Mech­a­nism with Action Video Games”

    (with, and not with­out the quo­ta­tion marks)

  3. Dr. Pascale Michelon on January 14, 2011 at 12:38

    Thanks for the info Sascha!

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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