Non-gamers might describe them as unproductive and social recluse individuals who spend countless hours a day in front of their personal computers, favorite gaming consoles, or mobile devices. Of course, this is inevitable. Gamers tend to detach themselves from the real world to dive into an otherworldly environment where they can solve problems, complete quests, or slay their virtual adversaries.
The Mental and Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games: How and Why Video Games Can Make You Smarter
Enhances Social Skills and Behaviors
But not all gamers are antisocial. In fact, a study by Nicholas Taylor, Jennifer Jenson, Suzanne de Castell, and Barry Dilouya found out that gaming augments the social lives of gamers.
The researchers traveled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and U.S. to observe the social behaviors of gamers and survey another 375 gamers playing massive multiplayer online role-playing games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft. In tracking both the online and offline behaviors of these individuals, they found out that gaming was only one aspect of social behavior at gaming events.
“We found that gamers were often exhibiting many social behaviors at once: watching games, talking, drinking, and chatting online,” said Taylor, lead author and a professor of communication. “Gaming did not eliminate social interaction; it supplemented it.
“This was true regardless of which games players were playing and whether a player’s behavior in the online game was altruistic. For example, a player could be utterly ruthless in the game and still socialize normally offline.”
There is also a reason to believe that gamers are not only socially aware but also equipped to function in several social situations. A report based on a United States survey by research and consultancy firm LifeCourse Associates revealed that gamers have more positive attributes than their non-gamer counterparts. To be specific, these gaming-obsessed individuals are more sociable and educated than non-gamers.
Specifically, the survey revealed that gamers consider family a top priority (82 percent versus 68 percent) while also placing a high importance on friends (57 percent versus 35 percent) than non-gamers. Gamers and their parents are also more likely to have finished their college education (43 percent and 52 percent, respectively) than non-gamers and their parents (36 percent and 37 percent, respectively).
In terms of values and norms, gamers are more likely predisposed to making a positive impact on society (76 percent vs. 55 percent). They prefer patronizing businesses that promote social causes (58 percent vs. 36 percent), and they give more importance to ethical business practices (78 percent vs. 65 percent).
Video Games and Cognitive Abilities
There are more benefits to video gaming, according to other studies. For instance, research from the U.S. Department of Defense discovered that gamers are considerably smarter than non-gamers. There is a commonly held belief that most individuals achieve their full brain capacity by the age of 20.
However, the research of Rey Perez, program officer at the warfighter performance department of the Office of Naval Research, which centered on exploring the effects of video game-like training programs, has produced surprising results.
Gamers perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive abilities compared to non-gamers, according to the research. Furthermore, the research revealed gamers have longer attention spans and a larger field of vision than normal people.
The aforementioned benefits have made video games an important training tool inside the U.S. Department of Defense. Perez said that video games increase the fluid intelligence of individuals regardless of their age. Note that fluid intelligence is the ability to change, meet new problems, and develop new tactics and counter-tactics without prior knowledge or experience.
Although there is empirical evidence of increased brain plasticity in video games, Perez noted that the biological and neurological process behind the phenomenon is not well understood. He hypothesized that the neural networks involved in video gaming become more pronounced, have increased blood flow, and become more synchronized with other neural networks in the brain.
Comparing Players versus Non-Players: Why Video Gamers Tend to Be Smarter than Non-Gamers?
Visual Performance and Decision-Making
Not all genres of video games produce the same social, mental, and cognitive advantages. The study of Vikranth R. Bejjanki et al. demonstrated for the first time that people who played action games like “Call of Duty” and “Unreal Tournament” had greater visual performance and prediction capacity than those who play non-action games.
The study specifically compared the visual performance of 10 action gamers with 10 non-action gamers who both played for 50 hours over nine weeks. It measured the ability of the two groups to distinguish one set of black and white lines from another set presented in rapid fashion. Results revealed action gamers outperformed non-action gamers.
Bejjanki et al. turned to neural modeling to understand why action gamers performed better. They found out that the brains of these individuals were more capable of estimating what various patterns of lines would look like before they appeared and then match those expectations to what they saw. As explained, this advantageous visual performance develops from playing fast-paced action games that, on the other hand, sharpens the prediction skills of the brain as it becomes exposed to better perceptual templates.
Researchers from Drake University also found out that gamers see more than non-gamers. To be specific, L. Gregory Appelbaum, Matthew S. Cain, Elise F. Darling, and Stephen R. Mitroff compared the visual sensitivity of gamers and non-gamers by subjecting them to a visual sensory memory task.
Findings revealed that gamers outperformed non-gamers, and they further confirmed earlier research that these individuals are quicker at responding to visual stimuli and can track more items than their non-gamer counterparts.
“Gamers see the world differently,” said Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “They are able to extract more information from a visual scene.”
The researchers examined three possible reasons for the apparent superior ability of gamers to make probabilistic interferences. Either they see better, they retain visual memory longer, or they have improved their decision-making.
Appelbaum et al. believed that memory retention is not the reason. Instead, two other factors might be in play: it is possible that gamers see more immediately, and they are better able to make the most appropriate decisions from available information.
Benefits on Learning Capabilities
Another small study from researchers at Brown University suggests that gaming not only improves the visual skills of gamers but also may improve their learning ability for those skills. The study authored by Andrew V. Berard et al. involved pitting nine frequent gamers against a control group of nine people who play video games rarely, if ever.
The two groups participated in a two-day trial of visual task learning. Subjects were shown an on-screen “texture” of either visual or horizontal lines and had to quickly point out—in a fraction of a second—the one area where an anomalous texture appeared. In visual processing research, this is a standard protocol called a texture discrimination task.
Earlier studies demonstrated that most people can be trained to improve their performance on texture discrimination tasks, but only if they are given enough time for the learning to “consolidate” in their mind, presumably as neural circuits embodying the learning take shape. If they move on to a second task too quickly, for example, that could interfere with their learning of the first one.
Berard et al. wanted to determine if gamers were better able to overcome this interference than non-gamers. To do so, they trained the study participants on a second similar task soon after training them on the first. Results revealed that frequent video gaming allows individuals to resist perceptual interference.
More specifically, gamers managed to improve performance on the provided first and second tasks, while non-gamers did what was expected: they improved on the second task they trained on, but not on the first. Learning the second task interfered with learning the first.
The data showed that gamers, on average, improved their combination of speed and accuracy by about 15 percent on their second task and about 11 percent on their first task. Non-gamers produced the same average 15 percent improvement on their second task, but they scored worse on the first task they learned, by about 5 percent. These results proved statistically significant despite the small number of participants.
Takeaway: The Benefits and Applications of Playing Video Games According to Research
Most studies done to investigate the effects of video gaming have centered on its negative impacts: the potential for triggering aggression and violence, depression and addiction, poor academic or workplace performance, other antisocial tendencies or behaviors, and health ailments such as obesity, among others.
However, research on the positive impacts or benefits of video games has become increasingly important for researchers in the fields of communication, psychology, neuroscience, and public administration, among others. Studies revealed that there is more to video gaming than merely passing the time.
The report published by LifeCourse Associates reiterated that perceptions about the effects of video games are now taking a positive turn. For example, educational games are increasingly being integrated into classroom teaching and workplace environments. Educators and employers use them to engage individuals and hone the development of new skills.
In retirement homes, gaming consoles have become instrumental in keeping the physical and mental facets of aging individuals active and sharp. It is also worth mentioning that government agencies and offices related to law enforcement and national security have recognized the value of video gaming as a tool for developing the skillsets of uniformed officials personnel.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Appelbaum, L. G., Cain, M. S., Darling, E. F., and Mitroff, S. R. 2013. “Action Video Game Playing is Associated with Improved Visual Sensitivity, But Not Alterations in Visual Sensory Memory.” Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. 75(6): 1161-1167. DOI: 3758/s13414-013-0472-7
- Bejjanki, V. R., Zhang, R., Li, R., Pouget, A., Green, C. S., Lu, Z.-L., and Bavelier, D. 2014. “Action Video Game Play Facilitates the Development of Better Perceptual Templates.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111(47): 16961-16966. DOI: 1073/pnas.1417056111
- Berard, A. V., Cain, M. S., Watanabe, T., and Sasaki, Y. 2015. “Frequent Video Game Players Resist Perceptual Interference.” PLOS ONE. 10(3): e0120011. DOI: 1371/journal.pone.0120011
- LifeCourse Associates. 2014. The New Face of Gamers. LifeCourse Associates. Available via PDF
- Taylor, N., Jenson, J., de Castell, S., and Dilouya, B. 2014. “Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 19(4): 763-779. DOI: 1111/jcc4.12054