Gamers Capture More Information Faster for Visual Decision-Making

We already saw this a couple of times in earlier research, but video gamers seem to do see more.

From the press release:

It can be difficult to find non-gamers among college students these days, but from among a pool of subjects participating in a much larger study in Stephen Mitroff’s Visual Cognition Lab at Duke, the researchers found 125 participants who were either non-gamers or very intensive gamers.

Each participant was run though a visual sensory memory task that flashed a circular arrangement of eight letters for just one-tenth of a second. After a delay ranging from 13 milliseconds to 2.5 seconds, an arrow appeared, pointing to one spot on the circle where a letter had been. Participants were asked to identify which letter had been in that spot.

At every time interval, intensive players of action video games outperformed non-gamers in recalling the letter.

Earlier research by others has found that gamers are quicker at responding to visual stimuli and can track more items than non-gamers. When playing a game, especially one of the “first-person shooters,” a gamer makes “probabilistic inferences” about what he’s seeing — good guy or bad guy, moving left or moving right — as rapidly as he can.

Appelbaum said that with time and experience, the gamer apparently gets better at doing this. “They need less information to arrive at a probabilistic conclusion, and they do it faster.”

Both groups experienced a rapid decay in memory of what the letters had been, but the gamers outperformed the non-gamers at every time interval.

The visual system sifts information out from what the eyes are seeing, and data that isn’t used decays quite rapidly, Appelbaum said. Gamers discard the unused stuff just about as fast as everyone else, but they appear to be starting with more information to begin with.

The researchers examined three possible reasons for the gamers’ apparently superior ability to make probabilistic inferences. Either they see better, they retain visual memory longer or they’ve improved their decision-making.

Looking at these results, Applebaum said, it appears that prolonged memory retention isn’t the reason. But the other two factors might both be in play — it is possible that the gamers see more immediately, and they are better able make better correct decisions from the information they have available.

Abstract of the research:

Action video game playing has been experimentally linked to a number of perceptual and cognitive improvements. These benefits are captured through a wide range of psychometric tasks and have led to the proposition that action video game experience may promote the ability to extract statistical evidence from sensory stimuli. Such an advantage could arise from a number of possible mechanisms: improvements in visual sensitivity, enhancements in the capacity or duration for which information is retained in visual memory, or higher-level strategic use of information for decision making. The present study measured the capacity and time course of visual sensory memory using a partial report performance task as a means to distinguish between these three possible mechanisms. Sensitivity measures and parameter estimates that describe sensory memory capacity and the rate of memory decay were compared between individuals who reported high evels and low levels of action video game experience. Our results revealed a uniform increase in partial report accuracy at all stimulus-to-cue delays for action video game players but no difference in the rate or time course of the memory decay. The present findings suggest that action video game playing may be related to enhancements in the initial sensitivity to visual stimuli, but not to a greater retention of information in iconic memory buffers.

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