For the majority of my childhood, my mother would tell me to cut back on video games, blaming them for my deteriorating vision, rather than her own bunk genetics. Well, the tables have turned, because researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that action video games (first-person shooters in particular) can actually improve
Contrast sensitivity is defined as the ability to detect small increments in shades of color, and it is the primary limiting factor for one's vision. The study showed that regular action video game players demonstrated higher contrast sensitivity than non video game players. One could argue that people with naturally higher contrast sensitivity might be more likely to play action video games, so the researchers did an additional experiment to show causality.
Two groups of subjects were tested on their contrast sensitivity, then each group was instructed to train on a video game. Subjects in the experimental group were allowed to play Call of Duty 2
or Unreal Tournament 2004
, while subjects in the control group were allowed to play The Sims 2
, which was described as being like the experimental games in that it is visually complex and engaging, but differing in that it is more slowly paced and does not require visually precise actions. The subjects who trained on the first person shooters scored higher on the contrast sensitivity test than the subjects who trained on The Sims 2
The really interesting part of this study is that vision is improved not by improving the eye, but by actually altering the brain in some way. It is not yet known exactly how the training changes or creates any particular synapses.
The results of the study shouldn't be too surprising, if you ask me. I can recall Halo
LAN parties, where each of us had a quarter of a 26" SDTV screen, and we were tasked with picking out blue opponents on top of light blue backgrounds. If our contrast sensitivity weren't
heightened, some parts of that game would be almost unplayable. Don't you wish this study had been done years ago, so you could show your parents and tell them just how wrong they are?
[via Scientific American
, originally published in Nature Neuroscience