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Benefits of Playing Video Games

Debate is rampant as to whether or not to let our children play video games. Many parents are unsure of the positive and negative effects video games can have on behaviour. The next articles will tackle the pros and cons of video gaming on cognition and behaviour.

More than any other type of #games, #action #video games have been dominating the market for the past few years and are being played by millions around the world. While parents may be reluctant to see their children play such fast-paced & violent games, these types of games to result in a wide range of behavioural and cognitive benefits in people.

Enhancements with regards to low-light environments and visual acuity, visual attention such as being able to quickly locate details and irregularities, and visuo-spatial capacities such as mental rotation and visualisation or orientation in space have been documented on many occasions. Moreover such fast-paced action video games also allow for increased timing, speed of processing and reaction times, facilitated task-switching skills where one has to either alternate seamlessly between modes of thinking/acting or be able to deal with interruptions, as well as improved object tracking and decision-making skills depending on a given situation or circumstance. Benefits can also be observed on other skills such as being able to predict, to infer and to statistically estimate results, reactions or consequences: for instance, having to decide and figure out whether events might or might not happen, when they might happen and under what circumstances, where enemies could or should be showing up at given moments or following given actions all help train such skills.

The idea behind this is simple: practice makes perfect. Experience shapes the brain through repeated stimulation of given areas and networks of neurons that simply become used more efficiently over time if practiced repeatedly. Dr. Merzenich states it right by saying that “Games that require progressively more accurate and more challenging judgments and actions at higher speeds, that require focused attention and the suppression of progressively stronger distracting lures, that increase working memory spans, that provide pro-social training contexts, and that offer increasingly harder cognitive challenges – among many other possible game dimensions – can be expected to drive positive neurological changes in the brain systems that support these behaviours.”

However, some argue that benefits could be hard to properly pinpoint without solid methodology, as people with better visuo-spatial skills for example have a higher probability of naturally playing these games in everyday life, because they are naturally good at it. Other researchers will indeed observe and identify improved abilities, but will question whether or not such improvements can truly be generalized in an everyday context. Training specific skills make you better at just that, using those specific skills in specific situations that are not easily generalizable. In other words, being able to quickly scan a screen and detect slight variations (i.e.: enemies behind objects) might very well represent a specific and important skill when playing a war video game, but it is not an adapted or generalizable skill, say, in an office or classroom setting.

Nevertheless, improvements are improvements. “Video games are controlled train­ing regimens delivered in highly motivating behavioural contexts,” explains Dr. Merzerich, and the right tools used for the right needs in the right settings can go a long way. For example, rehabilitating visual skills in individuals with lazy eyes or hemi-negligence, training motor skills, mental rotation and visuo-spatial abilities in people with non-verbal learning disability or processing speed and decision-making in people suffering from sluggish cognitive tempo.

Stay tuned for next week’s take on the NEGATIVE IMPACT OF VIDEO GAMES ON COGNITION!