Video games boost brain power

July 6, 2011 8:19:20 AM PDT
Wait ... High-action video games actually benefit the brain?

Battling bad guys -- saving the princess -- and winning the Super Bowl. Video games let you do all three -- and more -- which is why they're now a $10 billion annual business. But if you thought your kids were frying their brains while playing them -- you were wrong.

For one hour a day -- 10 years straight -- Ted Jacques has been playing video games. Yes -- there's lights-a-flashing and guns-a-blazing ... but please, don't call it a waste-of-time.

"In fact, they are excellent tools for learning," said University of Rocheste's Daphne Bavelier.

Bavelier says action games improve a variety of general life skills. For instance eyesight. Action gamers are nearly 60 percent better at distinguishing small changes in shades of gray.

"Which can be very useful when you're driving in the fog or at night," said Bavelier.

They're also 25 percent faster in making right decisions in a changing environment. Driving on a busy freeway is a good example. And right here, a gamer is tested on finding faces in a crowd -- a skill with real-world benefits.

"This ability to focus on what you're looking for and ignore everything which is a distraction is something, for example, which is very important in the classroom," said Bavelier.

Action games also decrease visual crowding, allowing people to read small print easier. Testing shows two years after game play stops: changes in brain activity are still there.

"If you play a little bit, the effects are going to be smaller. If you play a lot, the effects are going to be bigger," said Bavelier.

Different studies show excessive gaming can mean sleep and aggression problems -- so moderation is key.

"It is nice to be able to tell people I'm not just wasting my time and that there are benefits," Jacques said.

Jacques had a feeling he was on to something ... now he knows for sure.

Currently, these effects are only seen with high-action video games, not slow paced or strategic games. Research also shows these gamers are better pilots and better surgeons. Professor Bavelier is now studying these games as a tool to permanently fix lazy eye in adults.

BACKGROUND: Tennis for Two was the first video game created, as a forerunner to the video games of this era. The game was introduced at Brookhaven National Laboratory on October 15, 1958, and drew in hundreds of visitors for a chance to play the new electronic tennis game. Tennis for Two involved only two players at a time. The controllers for each player were connected to an analogue computer, and an oscilloscope was used for a screen. William Higinbotham, the creator of Tennis for Two, was a nuclear physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, and also lobbied for nuclear proliferation. Tennis for Two was a two-dimensional game that utilized a digital dot, viewed on the oscilloscope, to serve as a tennis ball. The controllers, which contained buttons and dials, served as digital racquets to serve the ball.

This early invention paved the way for the future development of action packed games that are popular in today's gaming society. (SOURCE:

COGNITIVE IMPROVEMENT: Video games, particularly high-action, shoot-em-up games, have been shown to improve cognitive function. A game with an immersive environment, which closely resembles real life scenarios, causes the player to concentrate more on the game, and in turn, boosts cognitive functions.

First-person shooter fantasy games have not shown the same cognitive improvements as first-person shooter games more aligned with reality. (SOURCE:

LEARNING TOOLS: Video games are now being used as learning tools for students, and professionals. Playing high-action games improved test takers skills by increasing their accuracy, multitasking skills, speed, and vision. American soldiers are complementing their military training by utilizing high-action, shoot-em-up games like Halo, and Full Spectrum Warrior to increase their awareness, and to give them a sense of an actual war zone. In doing this, soldiers will familiarize themselves with similar conditions they may have to deal with, and will improve their cognitive functions on the battlefield. (SOURCE:;

For More Information, Contact:

Alan Blank
Senior Science Writer
University of Rochester, Office of Communications

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