Study: FPS games enhance brain activity

Did you know that playing a first-person shooter causes differences in brain activity and improvements in visual attention?

Indeed, a slew of studies conducted in recent years positively identified differences in brain activity between FPS players and non-players. Nevertheless, skeptics have long insisted that such differences could be attributed to pre-existing differences in the brains of those predisposed to playing videogames and those who avoid them. 

However, a new study by psychology professor Ian Spence at the University of Toronto manages, for the first time, to attribute differences in brain activity directly to playing video games.

Under the auspices of Spence and his team, 25 subjects – who had not previously played videogames – played a game for a total of 10 hours in 1-2 hour sessions. 16 of the subjects played a first-person shooter game and, as a control, 9 subjects played a three-dimensional puzzle game.

Before and after playing the games, the subjects’ brain waves were recorded while they attempted to detect a target object among other distractions over a wide visual field. Subjects who played the FPS and also showed the greatest improvement on the visual attention task demonstrated significant changes in their brain waves. The remaining subjects — including those who had played the puzzle game — did not.

“Studies in different labs, including here at the University of Toronto, have shown that action videogames can improve selective visual attention, such as the ability to quickly detect and identify a target in a cluttered background. But nobody had previously demonstrated that there are differences in brain activity which are a direct result of playing the videogame,” Spence confirmed.

“Superior visual attention is crucial in many important everyday activities. It’s necessary for things such as driving a car, monitoring changes on a computer display, or even avoiding tripping while walking through a room with children’s toys scattered on the floor.”

The above-mentioned study will appear in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, published by MIT Press. Early access to uncorrected proofs of the article is available here.