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December 03, 2014

Action video games can boost learning

A new study shows that playing action video games improves not just the skills taught in the game but learning capabilities more generally.

“Prior research by our group and others has shown that action gamers excel at many tasks. In this new study, we show they excel because they are better learners,” says Daphne Bavelier, a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences. “And they become better learners,” she says, “by playing the fast-paced action games.”

According to Bavelier, who also holds a joint appointment at the University of Geneva, humans predict what will come next—whether when listening to a conversation, driving, or even performing surgery. “In order to sharpen their prediction skills, our brain constantly builds models, or ‘templates,’ of the world,” she says. “The better the template, the better the performance. And now we know playing action video game actually fosters better templates.”

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bavelier and her team first used a pattern discrimination task to compare action video game players’ visual performance with that of individuals who did not play action video games. The action gamers outperformed the non-action gamers. The key to the action gamers’ success, the researchers found, was that their brains used a better template for the task at hand.

They also found that the action gamers’ improved performance is a lasting effect. When tested several months to a year later, the action-trained participants still outperformed the other participants, suggesting that they retained their ability to build better templates.

Bavelier’s team is currently investigating which characteristics in action video games are key to boosting players’ learning. “Games other than action video games may be able to have the same effect,” she says. “They may need to be fast paced and require the player to divide his or her attention and make predictions at

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