In the December 2009 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Dye, Green and Bavelier set out to explore the positive benefits to video game playing on reaction times. It is well-accepted at this point that gamers have better reaction times than non-gamers – they respond more quickly to stimuli. The authors did not question this, but wanted to take it a step further by asking this question: Are regular gamers “trigger happy” – that is, have their reaction times improved by sacrificing accuracy? It is a stereotype that action gamers are more impulsive than others – but is that really the case?
In their compilation of recent research from their laboratory, the not-so-shocking answer is no, and there are two convincing pieces of evidence to this point:
- Regular video game players (those who self-reported playing 5 hours or more per week) had superior reaction times with no loss of accuracy compared to non-gamers.
- Non-regular video game players randomly assigned to 50 hours of play of Unreal Tournament or Call of Duty 2 (both high-intensity action games) over the course of 8 weeks had superior reaction times with no loss of accuracy compared to those assigned to play The Sims (a slow-paced life simulator), although the sample was small.
Either of these studies alone is not too convincing; the first is based on self-report data (and thus, “being a video gamer” could be correlated with intelligence, a natural propensity toward faster reaction times, or any other number of unmeasured variables) and the sample size for the second is limited (N = 25). But together, the picture they paint is quite compelling.
The implications of this are important. Directed video game training could be used at the high school level to improve hand-eye coordination for students with no detriment to their ability to process accurately. It also helps to quiet all those claims of “video games rot your brain.” It also has critical implications for adult training for jobs where reaction times are critical: firefighters, air traffic controllers, and military personnel, just to name a few.
And if a few hours of Call of Duty will help you survive, don’t you owe it to yourself to pick up a controller?Footnotes: