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Action video games sharpen vision, researchers say

Feb. 8, 2007
Courtesy University of Rochester
and World Science staff

High-ac­tion vid­eo games can ac­tu­al­ly im­prove your vi­sion, sci­en­t­ists have found.

Re­search­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Roch­es­ter, N.Y., said that peo­ple who played ac­tion vid­eo games for a few hours a day over a month im­proved by about 20 per­cent in their abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy let­ters pre­sented in clut­ter—a vis­u­al acu­i­ty test si­m­i­lar to ones used in reg­u­lar oph­thal­mol­o­gy clin­ics.

Stu­dents had to quick­ly iden­ti­fy the ori­en­ta­tion of the mid­dle "T." Ac­tion gam­ers did it bet­ter, re­search­ers said. (Cour­te­sy U. Roch­es­ter)


In es­sence, play­ing the games im­proves your bot­tom line on a stand­ard eye chart, they said.

“Ac­tion vi­d­eo game play changes the way our brains pro­cess vis­u­al in­for­ma­tion,” said Daph­ne Bave­lier, a cog­ni­tive sci­ent­ist at the university.

“After just 30 hours, play­ers showed a sub­stan­tial in­crease in the spa­tial res­o­lu­tion of their vi­sion, mean­ing they could see fig­ures like those on an eye chart more clear­ly, even when oth­er sym­bols crowd­ed in.”

Bave­lier and grad­u­ate stu­dent Shawn Green found col­lege stu­dents who had played few or no vi­d­eo games in the past year. “That alone was pret­ty tough,” said Green. “Nearly eve­ry­body on a cam­pus plays vi­d­eo games.”

They then broke the stu­dents in­to two groups. One was to play Un­real Tour­na­ment, a shoot-’em-up ac­tion game, for about an hour a day. The oth­er played Tetris, a game equal­ly chal­leng­ing to mo­tor skills, but vis­u­al­ly sim­pler. The first group showed marked im­prove­ment on the eye test a month lat­er; the sec­ond not so, the re­search­ers found.

When peo­ple play ac­tion games, “they’re chang­ing the brain’s path­way re­spon­si­ble for vis­u­al pro­cessing,” said Bave­lier. “These games push the hu­man vis­u­al sys­tem to the lim­its and the brain adapts to it. That learn­ing car­ries over in­to oth­er ac­tiv­i­ties and pos­si­bly eve­ry­day life.”

The team is now delv­ing in­to how the brain re­sponds to oth­er vis­u­al stim­u­li. They plan to use what would be a vi­d­eo gamer’s dream: a new 360-degree virtual-reality com­put­er lab now be­ing com­plet­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Roch­es­ter. The re­search is to ap­pear next week in the re­search jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence.


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High-action video games can actually improve your vision, researchers have found. Researchers at the University of Rochester, N.Y., said that people who played action video games for a few hours a day over a month improved by about 20 percent in their ability to identify letters presented in clutter—a visual acuity test similar to ones used in regular ophthalmology clinics. In essence, playing video game improves your bottom line on a standard eye chart, they said. “Action video game play changes the way our brains process visual information,” said Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “After just 30 hours, players showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see figures like those on an eye chart more clearly, even when other symbols crowded in.” Bavelier and graduate student Shawn Green tested college students who had played few, if any, video games in the last year. “That alone was pretty tough,” said Green. “Nearly everybody on a campus plays video games.” When people play action games, “they’re changing the brain’s pathway responsible for visual processing,” said Bavelier. “These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life.” The team is now delving into how the brain responds to other visual stimuli. They plan to use what would be a video gamer’s dream: a new 360-degree virtual-reality computer lab now being completed at the University of Rochester. This research appears next week in the journal Psychological Science.