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article imageSharpen your mind through violent video games

By Kirstin Stokes Smith     Aug 1, 2013 in Entertainment
Rochester - Violent video games make us smarter by improving brain function. Neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier has been studying how and why this is the case. One way she does this is by investigating how video games can be used to improve brain function.
"Action video games have a number of ingredients that are really powerful for brain plasticity, learning, attention [and] vision," she says.
Bavelier, who works out of Université of Geneva and the University of Rochester, has found that first person shooter (FPS) games improve brain function in people who play them. One way they accomplish this is through "retun[ing] connectivity across and within different brain areas," which Lydia Denworth calls "the holy grail of education."
Violent action-based video games are pervasive in our society. Recognizing this, Bavelier sought to challenge some existing biases against gaming in general and FPS games in particular. After putting aside social and cultural biases and measuring the impact of gaming quantitatively, she and her research team have made discoveries that turn many of these biases on their heads.
She found that people who played FPS games for five to 15 hours per week had better vision than those who did not play. Further, people who played these games were better able to observe small detail and better at distinguishing objects of the same color. This discovery is important, she says, because it points to ways researchers can retrain the brains of people with poor vision.
Challenging Negative Stereotypes
Bavelier's work shows that gamers who play FPS games are not only better in the areas of attention and tracking, these abilities increase after playing 10 hours of the same games over a period of two weeks.
In one test Bavelier's team showed gamers and non-gamers images of flashing squares on a computer screen then tested their ability to track objects in a defined space. The gamers scored on the average of 4.9 items per minute compared with non-gamers 3.3 items. Bavelier also discovered that gamers possess a high capacity to distinguish between colors — known as contrast sensitivity. In addition, the team retested these gamers after five months and found that they had retained their abilities.
Bavelier concedes the violence of FPS games may not be the element that improves brain function. Rather, it is the way they are made. At present she is working with Alan Gershenfeld (E-line Media) on the development of a game that optimizes her research findings and places them in the context of a non-violent game.
Article adapted from Violent video games make us smarter?; Op-Ed by K.Stokes Smith in Parents' Space
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