Home > Attention > Playing Video Games Will Help Your Grades……Maybe

Playing Video Games Will Help Your Grades……Maybe

guy-with-joystick-playing-video-games

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “gamer”? For non-gamers this term is often accompanied with a negative stigma. For some people, you might envision an average person, someone who studies hard in school or works a nine to five job while enjoying video games in their down time. But for others, many will associate this word with someone who lives in their parent’s basement, lacks social skills, has a diet consisting of Doritos and coke, and hardly sees the light of day. Some people may even think back to the time they saw that YouTube video of a “gamer” freaking out and breaking their TV or keyboard via a rage infused “gronk” spike. If you don’t know what a gronk spike is, click here.

In the modern age, because of how large of an influence technology plays in our daily lives, this negative stigma seems to be fading as more and more people are playing video games. However, spending hours a day playing is still often viewed as unproductive and wasted time. But what if I were to tell you that playing video games, specifically first person shooter games (FPS), could increase a person’s attentional capacity- the amount of information that a person can attend to at any given moment, the processing of peripheral information, and ability to multitask? To start, I’d bet there would be a lot of kids rushing to their parents defending their hours of play video games in hopes of being allowed to spend more time playing. I can envision the conversation now:

“Jimmy it’s time to turn off your Xbox and do your homework!” “But mom, I’m increasing my attentional capacity and ability to multitask!”

Attention is a limited resource, meaning there is only so much a person can attend to at once. Specifically, a person must choose where to allocate their attentional resources and what to attend to. Furthermore, when a person splits their attention between multiple different tasks (multitasking), performance will often decrease as a result of not having enough resources to effectively focus on multiple things at once.

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Screenshot of a first-person shooter game

Now, think about all the information that people have to attend to simultaneously while playing FPS games, such as: switching weapons, scanning their surroundings for enemies and objects, watching how much ammunition they have left, navigating their way through the virtual map, seeing where their teammates are, and in some instances communicate with their team. FPS games require players to attend to a number of different objects/stimuli at the same time, while also dealing with several different threats simultaneously. In order to perform well in an FPS game, the player must be aware of every inch of their screen and distinguish between what information is relevant and irrelevant; all while reacting to immediate and unexpected threats, such as an enemy, even if it’s in their peripheral field of vision. Because of this, it would make sense for “gamers” to be experts of multitasking, as they are required to give attention to many different things.

In the study conducted by Chiape et al. (2012), researchers wanted to see if playing video games could effectively increase one’s attentional capacity and ultimately, increase a person’s ability to perform multiple tasks at once; building on previous studies that suggested that video games increase the amount of information people can attend to (attention capacity). The study consisted of two groups of people; the first being the control group consisting of people who had zero exposure to video games during a 10 week period, while the other group consisted of people that were required to play at least 5 hours of FPS games a week for the ten-week period. It’s also important to note that both groups had no prior experience with video games (Chiape et al., 2012).

To properly measure the participant’s ability to multitask, researchers used the computerized Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB), which consists of four different tasks: tracking, fuel management, systems monitoring, and communications (Chiape et al., 2012). Furthermore, these four tasks are divided into two groups: primary tasks, and secondary tasks.  The MATB effectively tests multitasking performance, as it requires the participant to constantly monitor and act on a number of different information at the same time. In other words, participants must provide attention to all of the tasks at once to perform well.

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Multi-tasking

 

To measure whether or not playing video games affected the participant’s ability to multitask, participants took the MATB at the beginning of the study and then again at the end of the 10 week period. What researchers found was that at the end of the ten-week period the video game group’s performance on secondary tasks increased significantly, whereas the control group showed no improvement (Chiape et al., 2012). What’s interesting though, is that this increased performance on secondary tasks wasn’t accompanied by a decreased performance on primary tasks. Meaning that the video game group was effectively able to multitask without hurting their performance on any one specific task.

 

These results support the researcher’s hypothesis that playing videogames increases a person’s ability to perform multiple tasks at once. Furthermore, this study provides evidence that playing video games can be an effective training exercise to improve a person’s attentional capacity.

 

Now, with this study’s results in mind, think about how many people, whether they be college students or air traffic controllers, could benefit from the ability to increase their performance while performing many tasks at once. For a college student, it may mean getting better grades or just being able to study more efficiently, but for an air traffic controller it could mean avoiding an accident or in the most drastic cases, preventing deaths.

 

Although I don’t recommend replacing study time with playing video games in order to increase your attentional capacity, I find it very interesting and important to acknowledge that video games can have positive effects on our brains and cognitive processes. Studies like these also open up future possibilities of incorporating focused adaptations of video games into learning environments and professional environments as they can provide real world results in increasing cognitive processes with a cheap and highly rewarding platform.

 

The original article/study can be found here.

Another article demonstrating the positive effects of video games can be found here.

 

 

 

 

References:

Chiappe, D., Conger, M., Liao, J., Caldwell, J., & Vu, K. (2012). Improving Multi-tasking Ability Through Action Videogames. Applied Ergonomics, 44(2), 278-284. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2012.08.002

 

Images:

First Image

Multi-tasking

First-person Shooter Screenshot

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Attention Tags: ,
  1. March 27th, 2017 at 17:01 | #1

    This is really interesting post looking at the connections between playing video games and increasing ones attention capacity and multitasking abilities. I have never been a gamer but I have often been impressed by the multiple stimuli present when gaming and the gamer’s ability to attend to all of them. I am interested in how long it takes for gaming to evolve from a controlled task to an automatic task and if this happens is it a study that can be considered relevant past the activity of gaming?

    Considering the participants were not previous gamers gaming started out as a controlled task, pressing the correct buttons and understanding how to move around, etc., would take a lot of intentional effort, resources and conscious awareness. However, after a certain amount of time playing the game these tasks would become familiar, fast and easy. These tasks would change from being processed serially; completing one task at a time, to parallel; where multiple tasks are being processes concurrently. With participants in the experimental group playing at least 5 hours of FPS games per week for the ten-week duration of the study there is a high possibility that gaming became automatic. This potentially could mean that the participants did not improve their attention capacity or their multitasking ability they were just using less attentional resources due to gaming becoming an automatic process.

    I think this study has a lot of sound points but in order for it to be generalized to outside of the gaming realm there needs to be some more research.

  2. jfreeman
    December 9th, 2015 at 22:52 | #2

    As a previously avid gamer back in my middle school and early high school years, I had always tried to advocate about the positive effects of gaming to my parents without much success, but studies like this give me hope for future generations for supplying a rather valid reason for kids to tell their parents. As you explained in your post, this study on multi-tasking connects back to the Capacity Framework Model where attention is regarded as a limited cognitive resource except this study uses a more complex task than the traditional dual task paradigm used to measure the influence a secondary task has on the performance of the primary task.

    Although I do love the subject matter, I do find that this post is lacking some more connections to real-life situations outside of gaming. Considering how everyday life has become more fast-paced, more and more often do I see people attempting to multi-task when they shouldn’t like in the topic of distracted driving that was explored in class where Strayer and Johnson attempted to see the effect of being on a cellphone on one’s driving ability. The results demonstrated that one’s driving ability significantly decreased as one talked on a cellphone. If only everybody played a little FPS games on a weekly basis, then potentially the number of traffic accidents could decrease over time. Also, a little more focus on how video gaming have already been incorporated into some businesses or training schools can help strengthen the connections made at the end.

  3. December 9th, 2015 at 21:58 | #3

    The findings in this study are very interesting, and give scientific evidence to a lot of the common benefits I hear people say about video games, such as increasing hand-eye coordination, etc. However, even with these beneficial findings, there is bound to be a lot of criticism for first person shooter games.
    In particular, many parents claim that first person shooter games desensitize their children to violence. From what we’ve learned about memory and attention, I would assume that increased exposure to first person shooter games would have an effect on top down processing. Kids may grow to expect to see a certain type of person holding a gun, and this may affect them later in life. One study showed that white participants were quicker to say a black male had a weapon, and more likely to make an error when determining whether they were holding a weapon or a tool. If first person shooter games may contribute to this, are there other video games kids can play that will still increase their attentional capacity and ability to multitask?
    For instance, would playing Madden football (where you have to be aware of the converging defense, offensive routes, and defensive coverage) be just as effective?

  4. ruhe
    December 9th, 2015 at 21:50 | #4

    This interesting study found out that playing video games, especially first person shooting games, can increase our ability to multitask. I myself play video games a lot especially during weekends with friends. During the time of teamwork, we usually need to talk with each other and control the figures on screen at the same time. At first I may make some mistakes when controlling the figures on screen, but after doing this multitasking for some time, I am able to make both actions fluently. This reminds me of what we learned in the Cognitive Psychology class, where we discussed how a complex task can become automatic processes after certain amount of trainings. While a complex task needs controlled processes at first, we can use pattern recognition to find the internal connections between different elements, such as the actions in FPS games. Moreover, we talked about using different systems can actually distribute our attention better. In this case, I am using visual and auditory systems and it’s unlikely for these two systems to interrupt with each other. If used on an effective way, playing video games can surely further develop people’s ability of multitasking and responding speed to certain instructions. However, much more experiments are needed to prove what kind of games can improve this ability effectively without causing addiction. Some video games, after all, can be addictive and finally waste our time.

  5. cmrowlan
    December 7th, 2015 at 23:25 | #5

    I was kind of skeptical when I first started reading this, but by the end you had made clear the potential possibilities associated with playing video games that transcend the stigma surrounding the games. I think it’s interesting that this study opens the door to the possibility that humans can improve our attentional resources. To me this sort of sounds like an ability to grow our cognitive economy, and It sort of makes sense why all these games and website programs are coming out that prove they can “train” your brain. Whether these programs are accurate or not, you kind of show here that video games are probably a better alternative.

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