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Video games boost visual skills

Spiderman may help to train pilots and treat stroke patients.
29 May 2003

HELEN R. PILCHER
http://www.nature.com/nsu/030527/030527-5.html

----------------------------------------------------------------

 Playing video games could be good for your vision. A
new study suggests that action games might help to
rehabilitate visually impaired patients or train
military personnel.

 Male undergraduates who played driving or shoot-em-up
games such as Grand Theft Auto and Medal of Honor
several times a week for at least six months beat
non-gamers in lab vision tests1, found Shawn Green and
Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester in New
York state.

 Game-players react to fast-moving objects more
efficiently, explains Bavelier, and can track up to five
objects at a time - 30% more than non-players. "They can
process more information more quickly over time," she
says.

 These skills might help people to drive more safely,
Bavelier speculates. They may also enable pilots and air
traffic controllers to monitor their video display units
more effectively.

 "Computer games can help you train up your visual
attention in several ways," agrees vision researcher
Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard Medical School in Boston,
Massachusetts. They may not "turn you into a slack-jawed
zombie" after all, he says.

 Never too late

 Green and Bavelier's initial studies focused solely on
men, as the duo failed to find keen female gamers on
campus. But subsequent tests on novices showed that just
ten hours of shooting baddies can improve visual
attention.

 "The brain changes as a result of training," explains
neurobiologist Manfred Fahle of the University of
Bremen, Germany. The ends of nerve cells may shift
shape, helping them to communicate with each other more
effectively, he says. Such swift alterations hint that
visually impaired stroke patients or people recovering
from cataract surgery might benefit from playing similar
games.

 Training programmes would need to be designed with
care, however. Ten hours of the block-rotating game
Tetris failed to improve test scores.

 Improvements came with "the least socially desirable
games", Wolfe points out - those in which shooting and
killing is commonplace. The fact that you are defending
your own life in these games may be what makes their
lessons stick, Wolfe speculates.

 References

1. Green, C. S. & Bavelier, D. Action video game
   modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423,
   534 - 537, (2003).
   |Article|

 Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003



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