Playing video games not only improves visual skills but also improves learning ability for acquiring those skills, finds a study from the Brown University.
"When we study perceptual learning, we usually exclude people who have tonnes of video game playing time because they seem to have different visual processing. They are quicker and more accurate," explained senior author and associate professor Yuka Sasaki.
To conduct the study, the researchers pitted nine frequent gamers against a control group of nine people who game rarely if ever. They participated in a two-day trial of visual task learning.
Subjects were shown an on-screen "texture" of either vertical or horizontal lines and had to quickly point out - in a fraction of a second - the one area where an anomalous texture appeared.
In visual processing research, this is a standard protocol called a "texture discrimination task".
Sasaki and colleagues trained the subjects on a second similar task soon after training them on the first.
If in the first task the main texture was horizontal, for example, the second time it was vertical or vice versa.
The gamers managed to improve performance on both tasks while non-gamers did what was expected: They improved on the second task they trained on, but not on the first.
Learning the second task interfered with learning the first with non-gamers.
The data show that gamers on an average improved their combination of speed and accuracy by about 15% on their second task and about 11 percent on their first task.
Non-gamers produced the same average 15% improvement on their second task, but they actually got a bit worse on the first task they learned, by about 5%.
Despite the small number of participants, the results proved statistically significant, said the paper that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.
The exact neural mechanisms underlying visual or perceptual learning are not yet known but the study suggests that gamers may have a more efficient process for hardwiring their visual task learning than non-gamers.
"It may be possible that the vast amount of visual training frequent gamers receive over the years could help contribute to honing consolidation mechanisms in the brain, especially for visually developed skills," the researchers wrote.
A lot of people still view video games as a time-wasting activity even though research is beginning to show their beneficial aspects.
"If we can demonstrate that video games may actually improve some cognitive functioning, perhaps we, as a society, can embrace newer technology and media with positive application," the authors concluded.