Study: action video games give eyesight a boost

New work in neuroscience suggests that action video games may boost the contrast sensitivity of our vision.

Fans of action video games have now been given a new excuse to spend hours in front of a screen. According to research published in today’s issue of Nature Neuroscience, action video games may train our eyesight so we have a better contrast sensitivity function (CSF), which is our ability to detect shades and colors that differ from the background. Daphne Bavelier (from the University of Rochester) and her colleagues compared the eyesights of expert action and non-action gamers and found that only action games enhanced CSF.

Poor CSF makes it difficult for people to drive, read, and perform a variety of other functions. CSF isn't a matter of how clearly you see things; instead, it’s related to the brightness perception of your vision, and is based on both the capabilities of our eyes and the neural components that interpret what they perceive. Thus, it's possible to improve CSF without changing basic aspects of vision by training the brain in a way that heightens awareness of contrast.

Based on past clinical work, the authors knew that working the brain in a way that increases neural plasticity is beneficial to vision. This led them to ask if video gaming could be a helpful training tool for people with poor CSF.

First, they noticed that not all video games were created equal when it comes to vision enhancement. Action video gamers had superior CSF when compared to those who played non-action games. Although there was a correlation between better CSF and action video gaming, this didn’t automatically imply causation—it could just mean that people with top CSF did better at action games and gravitated towards them.

To establish that the actual act of action video gaming boosts CSF, the authors ran a training program for non-action video game players. They trained the players for 50 hours over a period of nine weeks on either action games (Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2) or a non-action one (The Sims 2). All the participants were healthy adults with excellent vision.

After the training period, the CSF of those who trained on action games had improved by 43 to 58 percent more than those who played the non-action games. The action gamers were also quicker at detecting visual contrasts. About 77 percent of action game participants displayed a shorter critical duration, while only 22 percent of non-action players showed a similar improvement.

This study shows that action video games can interact with our potential for neural plasticity to enhance our CSF, which lead the authors to write that video game training “may become a useful complement to eye-correction techniques that are routinely used in the clinic to improve eyesight.” However, it is important to note that all of their experiments were done on healthy adults with good vision, so further experiments are necessary to see if action video gaming can help people who need it the most, like those suffering from amblyopia and cataracts.

The researcher’s discovery that only action games improved vision is another avenue that deserves further investigation. Figuring out the key differences between action and non-action video games could help in the development of more precise therapies for visual impairment.

Source: ars technica

Tags: computer games

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