The debate over video gaming’s potential benefits is a divisive one. Yet despite the concerns of many, a significant body of research proves a correlation between playing video games and improved attention resources, problem solving, and response speed. Additionally, a recent study determined that playing action-based video games can positively affect a player’s probability categorizing skills.

In order to assess and understand gamers’ probabilistic skills, a group of researchers studied 15 participants who played action-based video games 15 or more hours a week and 15 participants who played less than 15 hours a week. The subjects participated in a Weather Prediction Task (WPT), where they were asked to identify a series of weather cue card combinations and make predictions based on probabilities they detected. The WPT contained a variety of prediction tasks, which required subjects to make educated guesses on outcomes where probability ranged anywhere from 80/20% to 60/40%. While the WPT was being performed, subjects were scanned in an MRI scanner to determine which parts of their brain were activated and in order to understand the types of memory processes at work.

The researchers found that gamers were notably better at making predictions, especially under conditions characterized by stronger uncertainty. For example while the gap between correct predictions in gamers and non-gamers was smaller in 80/20% conditions, the gap was much larger in 60/40% conditions. Additionally, brain imaging data showed there was a higher level of activity in the regions of gamers’ brains that relate to and strengthen memory, attentional processes, and cognitive control. A post-experiment questionnaire also showed that the video gamers had an increased ability to draw conclusions, despite existing uncertainties, because during the WPT they had retained more declarative knowledge about the card combinations and related weather outcomes.

Despite the fact that many see video games as building inconsequential skills in a limited, unreal environment, this research shows that the skills built in playing such games can be applicable to real-world situations. However you may feel about video games, the outlook is good for their ability to improve certain qualities in gamers.

Schenk, S., Lech R., Suchan, B. (2017). Games people play: How video games improve probabilistic learning. Behavioral Brain Research. (335) (2017) (208-214).

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