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Science News: Action video games speed up decision-making process

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Monday, September 27, 2010; 6:36 PM

Playing action video games, the source of parent-child conflict, may improve a person's ability to make quick and accurate observations, according to a new study.

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Researchers at the University of Rochester found that video gamers who played 50 hours of the fast-paced role-playing games "Call of Duty 2" and "Unreal Tournament" made accurate decisions up to 25 percent faster than those who played a slow-moving strategy game.

The researchers recruited 20 young adults, none of whom was a frequent player of action video games, and measured their initial decision-making skills using a boring visual computer task.

Recruits staring at a static black-and-white screen were asked to watch a cluster of darkened dots and quickly say in what direction the dots were moving. Researchers noted how often the participants correctly perceived the dot movement and how quickly they responded with the correct answer of either "left" or "right."

The recruits then spent the next 10 weeks playing video games on computers at the research facility, five hours a week. The researchers had divided the group at random: Half played the action games, hunting foes or shooting up robots; half played "The Sims 2," building and maintaining virtual communities. After 50 hours of game time, researchers measured how the players' decision-making performance changed with a final moving-dot test.

The action gamers made decisions just as accurate as their strategy-gaming peers about whether the dots were moving and in which direction, but they also sped up their response time.

"We ruled out . . . explanations like being more trigger-happy . . . or just being faster on the motor side," said Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive science professor and contributing author of the study, which was published in the September issue of Current Biology. "The benefit is coming from enhancing the amount of information the brain of action-game trainees can pick up from the environment for the task at hand."

- Leslie Tamura 6Do you think video games can be beneficial for your child? Share your opinion at www.washingtonpost.com/yourtake.

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