It is a widely held notion that playing video games for hours at a time is not good for health, particularly because an avid player of video games spends most of their time just sitting and almost in a dormant state. In other words, they don’t engage in a lot of physical activity which the body needs. But according to a recent study from the University of Toronto, playing action video games can have neurological benefits.
The study, led by Ian Spence, psychology professor at the University of Toronto, involved sixteen participants playing video games for the first time. The subjects completed 10 hours of one- to two-hour game sessions playing a first-person shooter game. Another nine subjects served as the control group and played a 3D puzzle game. Before and after the activities, both groups were asked to take part in visual attention, in which they had to locate a target object over a wide field of vision and mixed up with some clutter, while the researchers recorded their brain waves.
Considerable changes in brain activity were observed in participants who played the shooter game and also exhibited the most improvements on the visual attention activity after playing the video game. No significant changes in brain waves were observed in the other participants, those who played the 3D puzzle game and a few who played the shooter game but whose performance on the visual attention task did not improve much.
Spence explains, “Studies in different labs, including here at the University of Toronto, have shown that action video games can improve selective visual attention, such as the ability to quickly detect and identify a target in a cluttered background. But nobody has previously demonstrated that there are differences in brain activity which are a direct result of playing the video game.”
One of Spence’s doctoral students who was also part of the research team adds that the changes in brain waves that they recorded after the participants played the shooter game “were consistent with brain processes that enhance visual attention and suppress distracting information.”
Spence also mentions that “superior visual attention” is a necessity when performing certain activities, 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 findings of the study will be published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.