Playing action video games can improve children’s skills beyond those taught in the game, extending to more general learning capabilities.
The researchers of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conclude that playing fast-paced action games can help children become better learners. Action games require players to predict what will happen next and what moves will lead to a successful outcome.
These type of prediction skills are necessary for everyday circumstances, such as listening to a conversation and driving. Children also need to harness prediction skills in order to navigate the social and physical world.
In order to build such skills, the brain creates models or 'templates' of the world around them. Better templates result in better performance. And researchers have found that playing action video games actually fosters better templates.
Action vs. Non-Action Games
The researchers first examined a group of action video game players and non-action video game players’ visual performance. This comparison was conducted using a pattern discrimination task. The results of this experiment showed that the action video game players outperformed the non-action video game players due to their brains ability to use a better template to complete the assigned task.
Next, the researchers compared a group of “habitual” players of fast-paced, action video games compared to players with little gaming experience. The habitual players were instructed to play 50 hours of an action video game over the course of nine weeks, while the players with little experience were instructed to play a non-action video game.
The researchers established a baseline of ability before the video game play began. The participants were then retested after the nine weeks. The results showed that action video game players improved their brain templates compared to the non-action group.
How It Works
Based on these findings, the researchers then investigated how action video games foster better templates in the brain. To do so, the researchers assigned the action gamers a perceptual learning task. The researchers found that action video gamers’ brains were able to build and tweak templates quicker than non-action video gamers. As action video gamers engaged in the task, their brains were able to adapt and develop better templates.
Thus, children who play action video games didn’t necessarily start the task with a better template, but rather, their brains were better at predicting and developing appropriate templates for the task at a much faster pace.
Furthermore, the researchers followed up with the gamers 3 and 12 months later to examine whether the effects were still present. The action video gamers outperformed the non-action video gamers, which suggests they were able to retain their ability to build better templates.
So, what does this mean for children and playing action video games? These findings reflect the positive aspects of children playing action video games, such as building predictive skills and improved learning. Although playing action video games that require children to plan and execute actions can be a positive stimulus, researchers maintain that parents and teachers should keep it to under an hour a day.
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