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How Videogames Train Your Brain

Looking to sharpen your awareness? Beef up your leadership skills? Become more decisive? Get an Xbox.

Looking to sharpen your awareness? To beef up your leadership skills? To become more decisive? Well, then get an Xbox. A new study finds that after playing the "fast paced action" videogames Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, participants were quicker at a decision-making exercise than participants who played the slow-paced strategy game The Sims 2.

Videogame preferences aside, this discovery adds to a growing body of research (some with clever titles like "Learning to See in Stereo") that is finding unexpected benefits of pushing buttons while sitting on your couch. For instance, past studies found that videogames can actually improve your vision, by developing better perception of contrast and shading—to see the hiding bad guy in the bushes on the screen, say.

The main value of action gaming, though—as opposed to slower strategy gaming—is on making quicker assessments of a situation that lead to quicker action. They also found, surprisingly, that the pace of decision making doesn't lower the accuracy of it. This would have implications for training leaders in business if the decision making were about complex concepts or calculations. However, for now, the data only support more limited applications.

"Action videogame players' brains are more efficient collectors of visual and auditory information," the researchers found. That is applicable for certain kinds of tasks, like driving. "You may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don't brake," said study author and Rochester University Professor, Daphne Bavelier, in explaining real-world applications of this kind of videogame-induced brain enhancement.

Given that the study was testing visual and auditory snap judgments, there's no conclusion yet on how a Halo addiction might help (or hurt) your actual interpersonal relationships, your prospects for promotion, or your hygiene.

Photo (CC) by Flickr user Steve Maw

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