Action gamers learn easier

Psychologists explain how and why action games improve learning success

Several studies have already shown that challenging games improve gamers’ skills in everyday life as well. For example, hand-eye coordination benefits. Surgeons who had played on the computer before an operation also performed better afterwards, literally. Where these improvements come from in detail is not yet fully clear to scientists. An interesting study in the publications of the US Academy of Sciences (PNAS) now sheds some light on the subject.

An American research team first compared the performance of subjects used to action games and non-gamers in recognizing certain patterns superimposed by background noise of varying intensity. The gamers performed significantly better – in particular, they were better able to distinguish between patterns and noise. However, this experiment was not yet sufficient to establish a causal relationship.

Rather, experiment number 2 served this purpose: Here, a part of the previously non-gaming test subjects had to undergo a total of 50 hours of action game training, while the control group had to play games with little action during this time. The result: the players who were now trained significantly improved their performance in pattern recognition. The subjects were found to be better at eliminating external and internal sources of stimuli. A common neural model attributes this to the existence of internalized templates.

However, these templates are not better or more accurate in the trained subjects than in the untrained ones – it is rather the case that the action players are able to adapt their templates more quickly to the task in front of them in the course of the recognition process. However, this was only shown to the researchers in experiment number 3: Here, gamers and non-gamers had to solve similar tasks in several sessions. The gamers improved their performance from round to round more than the non-gamers. According to the researchers, action games do not improve individual factors such as pattern recognition rates, but rather the ability to learn itself.

Parents of teens who play games all the time, who are now pointing to the new study, can rest easy, by the way: The results don’t argue against learning for school at all. On the contrary, only if the player has the opportunity to use his learning skills, which have been improved by playing, in the process of learning, he will gain an advantage. If you don’t learn, you stay stupid – whether you are a player or a non-player.

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