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Shoot-em-ups make you think faster

Amazing facts of our time (No. 92)

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Playing video games trains people to make faster decisions and gives them a heightened sense of their surroundings - just like vampires. But not any old computer games - no, you need games like Call of Duty 2 and the Unreal Tournament to augment your ears and eyes.

These are some of the findings of three American cognitive scientists of The University of Rochester, Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green. They tested dozens of 18-25 year olds, who, crucially, do not ordinarily play games. One group played 50 hours of fast paced action games - and the other groups played 50 hours of the funereally-paced The Sims 2.

The lab rats were then subjected to visual and auditory tests, such as if dots were moving left or right across the screen. The shoot-em-up group were 25 per cent faster in making decisions and are just as accurate as the slow coaches. So could this mean that playing The Sims 2 makes you a little bit simple?

"It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster," Bavelier said. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."

How come? The Rochester researchers attribute the action gamers' faster decision making to a process called probabilistic inference. The brain continuously accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information as a person surveys a scene, eventually gathering enough for the person to make what they perceive to be an accurate decision, Bavellier explains

"Decisions are never black and white," she said. "The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, 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."

We would like the Rochester team to conduct another test of action gamers, dividing them into reckless arseholes and not reckless arseholes. That would help us work out if quick eye-ear reaction time, fast decision- making translates into wisdom...

University of Rochester: Video Games Lead to Faster Decisions that are No Less Accurate

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