Playing a mobile video game for just an hour can significantly improve attentional alertness in young adults, according to new research published in PeerJ. This finding adds a new perspective to the ongoing debate about the impact of video games on cognition.
Video games have long been a subject of interest in cognitive research, primarily due to their widespread popularity. With over a third of the world’s population engaged in gaming, understanding its impact on the brain has become increasingly important.
Prior research has demonstrated various cognitive benefits associated with video gaming, such as improved visual attention, memory, and processing speed. Particularly, action video games have been shown to positively affect cognitive functions. However, much of this research focused on long-term gaming habits, leaving a gap in understanding the effects of short, sporadic gaming sessions that are more common in daily life.
“Mobile devices enable people to engage in gaming during brief intervals in their daily lives. It has come to our attention that college students frequently play mobile video games during class breaks, asserting an enhanced sense of concentration following these short gaming sessions,” explained the three authors of the study, Biye Wang, Jiahui Jiang, and Wei Guo.
“Although several studies have addressed the long-term training effects of action video games on cognitive function, there is limited information in the literature regarding the effects of a single bout of a video game play on attention, despite the widespread engagement of a substantial populace in brief, sporadic bouts of mobile video game. Therefore, we undertook this experiment to ascertain this prevalent phenomenon.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 72 undergraduate students from Yangzhou University, ensuring they met specific criteria: they played video games for no more than two hours per week in the past six months, were right-handed, had normal or corrected-to-normal vision, and had no history of brain injuries or psychiatric or neurological disorders.
The students were then split into two groups. One group played a multiplayer online battle arena game called “Honor of Kings” for 60 minutes, while the other played a mobile card game, “Happy Poker,” for the same duration. “Honor of Kings” was chosen for its demands on the player’s attention, requiring quick decision-making and focus on multiple elements simultaneously.
Before and after the gaming session, participants’ attention abilities were measured using a tool called the Attention Network Test. This test assesses various aspects of attention, like how quickly and accurately a person can process information under different conditions.
The researchers found that students who played the action game showed a significant improvement in what’s known as ‘alerting network efficiency’ – a component of attention that relates to being prepared and maintaining a state of high sensitivity to incoming information. These improvements were not observed in the group that played the card game, suggesting that the type of game matters.
These findings suggest that even a short session of mobile action gaming can enhance certain aspects of cognitive function, particularly alertness. The study’s authors propose that the demands of the strategy game – requiring players to constantly switch between broad surveillance and focused attention – might be responsible for this cognitive boost.
“The most surprising thing is that it doesn’t require long-term training, just a short session of mobile action video game is enough to alter attentional network functions,” the researchers told PsyPost. “Rather than passively consuming information through short videos on mobile phones during fragmented time intervals, why not engage in a short session of mobile action video games? This form of entertainment may not only provide leisure but also enhance attentional functions, at least according to findings from the present study.”
However, the study found no notable changes in the other aspects of attention, such as orienting (the ability to quickly shift attention to different locations) and executive control (the ability to resolve conflicts between different responses).
While these findings are intriguing, the study has some limitations. First, the study only measured the immediate effects of a single gaming session. It doesn’t tell us whether these cognitive benefits last over time or if they become more pronounced with regular play. Furthermore, the study doesn’t delve into the underlying mechanisms of how gaming enhances attention. Is it the immersive nature of the games, the fast-paced decision-making, or something else entirely? These are questions future research needs to address.
“The current study is limited in its ability to draw a conclusive inference regarding whether the observed improvement is ‘game-related’ or ‘generic,'” said Wang, Jiang, and Guo. “Further exploration is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the effects of playing a single bout of mobile video games on attentional network improvement.”
The study, “Effects of a single bout of mobile action video game play on attentional networks“, was published November 10, 2023.