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Cognitive Science

Action video games improve goal-directed reaction times, study finds

Research on video games is not restricted to the controversies that are commonly referenced in popular media. Many studies have been performed that demonstrate the beneficial effects of video games on a number of physiological and psychological measures. For example, players of action video games have been shown to have a lower threshold for contrast recognition in the visual processing network when compared to non-gamers, suggesting that they can identify changes in contrast significantly quicker. Processes related to attention have also shown improvement in response to action game training.

A study by University of Leicester researcher Claire V. Hutchinson and her colleagues examined how video game training may impact the selective and inhibitory aspects of attentional control. This was accomplished by exploiting a known conflict in the attention system called the Simon Effect. Named for the researcher who discovered it, the Simon Effect describes a slowing of reaction time in stimulus-response tasks as the stimulus source and responding devices are moved further away from each other in physical proximity.

Sixty participants were included in the experiment, all of which reported having no prior video game experience. Each subject completed a test designed to elicit and measure the Simon Effect, appropriately called the Simon Task. It involved being presented with targets on a screen and responding using triggers held with each hand.

For example, they could be told to watch for the appearance of a block on a monitor, and to respond with a left hand click if it is green or right hand click if it is red. Reaction times in these tasks are slower when the horizontal location of the stimulus (left vs right) does not match the appropriate responding hand, demonstrating the Simon Effect.

After completing the initial task, participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. The first two were to play an action game for one hour per day for ten days, differing only by the game system to be used. Group three completed the same training schedule but for a visual training video game (non-action) and the final group acted as a control with no training at all. Subjects once again completed the Simon Task on the day after the treatment groups’ last training session.

Corresponding with predictions, reaction times were found to be significantly quicker following action game training, suggesting that this type of video game experience can improve cognitive processes by lessening the impact of conflicts between stimulus and response locations.

The study was published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.