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Video games increasing your sight.

You CAN teach an old neuron new tricks.  How do you manage this great feat?  How do you get your brain to function better than it currently does?  You can play video games!

Daphne Bavelier and her lab at the University of Rochester have demonstrated that playing video games can improve your eyesight, in particular, your ability to perceive contrast.

Li, R., Polat, U., Makous, W. & Bavelier, D. (2009).  Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game playing.  Nature Neuroscience.   (You can find the PDF of this article on Dr. Bavalier’s website.)

Perhaps this research can help us gamers as a whole to fight the bad reputation video games get as just a distraction and waste of time.  But the most exciting thing is that a completely novel method of improving contrast vision has been found.   Remember those days when we thought our brains could not be altered?  Well, this paper and others are demonstrating that our brains change with training.  But this paper in particular demonstrates how playing action video games can help you out.

Gabor Patch

This is an example of a Gabor Patch. The rate of its flickering, and length of its appearance can be varied.

To prove these ideas Renjle Li first took 10 men who played action video games at least five times a week and 10 men who hadn’t played a video game in over a year.  The gamers responded more quickly and just as accurately as their peers to test of contrast detection, called a Gabor Patch, in which the subject is asked to state when the Gabor Patch is visible on the computer screen.

After reading this part of the research I gathered that gamers on the whole are faster than non-gamers at the dot array test.  Thus, a correlation exists.  But does that mean the games made them that way or that people who choose to play games are just faster?  In order to demonstrate game play is the cause of the better performance, Renjle Li coordinated the following experiment.

The team randomly assigned six non video game players to play two action video games for a total of 50 hours over nine weeks, with no more than two hours of play per day.  Another seven non video game players followed the same rules but played a video game that involves directing the lives of simulated characters to achieve certain goals (interesting, but no action).  These subjects who averaged 26 years of age, and reported having played no video games of any type within one year’s time took the same tests as described above.  The action gamers responded to the Gabor Patch test at a lower contrast than the group playing the simulation game, and with similar accuracy.  This experiment proves that action games increased the action gamers’ contrast vision.

This link will take you to some of Dr. Bavelier’s lab’s more current research on the subject. Additionally, Ed Yong, a fantastic science blogger, who has been presenting real science research like this to the public for a while, and who now blogs for Discover, has an interesting post on the subject.

Please comment on this post if you would like to have an ongoing discussion on the subject.  I want to hear your thoughts.  And we’ll keep the Games Related Research Posts coming!

Li, R., Polat, U., Makous, W. & Bavelier, D. (2009).  Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game playing.  Nature Neuroscience.   (You can find the PDF of this article on Dr. Bavalier’s website.)

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