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Psychologists give gaming the thumbs up

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A trio of psychology reports examining the benefits of videogames have unanimously concluded that some titles can have positive effects on their players.

The research, which was released yesterday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Boston, Massachusetts, found that people of all ages and from all walks can benefit from certain types of videogames, such as brain training and educational games.

For example, one research paper conducted by psychologists Fran Blumberg and Sabrina Ismailer from Fordham University, New York measured the ability of 122 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade US school children to problem solve while playing a videogame.

The kids had to think aloud for 20 minutes, while playing the title, and researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by examining the types of “cognitive, goal-oriented, game-oriented, emotional and contextual statements” the young gamers made.

“Younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games," concluded Blumberg.

A separate study, conducted by psychologists Douglas Gentile and William Stone from Iowa State University, found that a videogame requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity used to train surgeons resulted in keyhole surgery being performed “significantly faster” in testing sessions.

“Games are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could,” summarised Gentile.

A third study, based on nearly 2000 World of Warcraft players, found that 86 per cent shared their game knowledge, in discussion posts, with other gamers. Roughly 50 per cent also used “systematic and evaluative processes” based on scientific reasoning to overcome in-game problems.

Not all videogames have a positive effect though. Grand Theft Auto has already been claimed to have inspired one group of teenagers to lob Molotov cocktails at cars in their local neighbourhood. And a Thai teen recently admitted to stealing a taxi because he wanted to see if it was as easy to do as it is in the game.

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