Playing video games can improve the cognitive development of expert players

Expert players of action real-time strategy games such as League of Legends become better at allocating brain resources between visual stimuli that compete for attention.

Action real-time strategy gaming (ARSG) is a cognitively demanding task that requires attention, sensorimotor skills, team cooperation, and strategy-making abilities. 

Expert players in the game, such as World of Warcraft, Age of Empires, and Total War are better at allocating brain resources between visual stimuli that compete for attention, suggest a new study.

According to the study, expert players have improved cognitive development, such as higher sensitivity to contrasts, better eye-to-hand coordination, and superior memory. They have faster information processing, allocate more cognitive power to individual visual stimuli, and allocate limited cognitive resources between successive stimuli more effectively through time.

In other words, the study found that playing such games can lead to long-term changes in the brain and cause improvement in temporal visual selective attention.

Author Dr. Diankun Gong, Associate Professor in the Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Neuroinformation at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, said, “We aimed to evaluate the long-term effect of experience with action real-time strategy games on temporal visual selective attention.”

“In particular, we wanted to reveal the time course of cognitive processes during the attentional blink task, a typical task used by neuroscientists to study selective visual attention.”

The study was conducted on 38 volunteers, healthy young male students from the University of Electronic Science and Technology. Half of the volunteers were expert players.

Volunteers had played the game for at least two years and were masters, based on their ranking among the top 7% of players. The others were beginners, with less than six months’ experience of the same game, and ranked among the bottom 30-45%. 

All volunteers were seated in front of a screen and tested in a blink task, with 480 trials throughout approximately two h. The greater a volunteer’s tendency to “blink” targets, the less frequently he would press the correct button when one of the two targets appeared on the screen, and the worse he did overall in the task.

While playing games, the volunteers were asked to wear EEG electrodes on the parietal (i.e., sides and top) region of their scalp. This allowed scientists to measure and localize the brain’s activity throughout the experiment.

Scientists mainly focused on the so-called P3b phase of the ERP, a peak between 200 and 500 ms after the stimulus.

Coauthor Dr. Weiyi Ma, Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Arkansas, USA, said, “We found that expert League of Legend players outperformed beginners in the task. The experts were less prone to the blink effect, detecting targets more accurately and faster, and, as shown by their stronger P3b, gave more attentional cognitive resources to each target.”

Author, Dr. Tiejun Liu said, “Our results suggest that long-term experience of action real-time strategy games leads to improvements in temporal visual selective attention: the expert gamers had become more effective in distributing limited cognitive resources between successive visual targets.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Action Real-Time Strategy Gaming Experience Related to Increased Attentional Resources: An Attentional Blink Study. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00101

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