Dr. Daphne Bavelier first published her findings that heavy action video game players (COD, Halo, CS etc.) demonstrate superior visual attention skills in a letter to Nature in 2003.

Since then her lab has continued to investigate the influence of action video game play on neural plasticity and its potential benefits for learning. Speed of decision-making is one of the many benefits action gamers get as a result of their gaming.

The TIL I'm referring to: http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/1jt94a/til_that_playing_action_video_games_trains_people/

EDIT: Looks like we're done here. Thanks for the questions and to the person who gave me gold. It's been fun, and I hope informative.

Comments: 634 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

grant0191 karma


throwaway82374680 karma


Quintuss71 karma

That was not a quick reaction... ;)

ASatanicCupcake73 karma

He obviously doesn't play video games.

throwaway82374667 karma

I went to sleep.

Sahil17160 karma

Do violent video games really influence violent behavior?

Most my sources say no, but others say yes. My high school theology teacher gave us a whole bunch of papers regarding this topic arguing that violent games do influence violent behavior. So I'm really confused about this topic.

throwaway823746472 karma

My personal opinion is that the findings are statistically significant but practically irrelevant. Certain types of games do make you ever-so-slightly more likely to act aggressively. But so will stubbing your toe. People make a big deal out of the violence-related findings because they want them to be true.

BulaVinakaBeachside13 karma


throwaway82374640 karma

Nope, we don't study aggression at all. We're interested in visual attention and neural plasticity. Her findings are quite robust and have been supported by a number of replication studies.

We're familiar with the aggression findings because you can't talk about studying video games without being asked about it. I said that was my personal opinion, I'm sure the authors of those articles would have other things to say on the matter. (They do)

Tacticalbacon1118 karma

What is your favorite video game?

throwaway823746309 karma

Our experimental group played Unreal Tournament 2004, and the control group played the Sims 2.

Personally I prefer strategy games and sandbox-style games. But my favorite would have to be Dwarf Fortress.

Eyclonus295 karma

throwaway82374633 karma


Close53 karma

How do we not just know that Sims 2 decreased the ability of people to make decisions - i'm pretty sure that game makes people stupider.

throwaway82374647 karma

As I said in my other replies, the improvement we see is not in making smarter decisions, but faster ones without sacrificing accuracy.

They didn't get slower or less accurate, they just didn't change from where they were before.

MrsRickyRicardo12 karma

Surely they had a second non gaming control group, if they spent three years on this. I can't access the paper though to check.

throwaway82374628 karma

Actually all the subjects were non-gamers who we trained on the two games. Only the gamers improved.

Also the TIL was discussing old findings from before my time in the lab. I spent 3 years training people for another purpose....

tritlo10 karma

And how do you think playing DF all day affects decision? Does it make losing more fun?

Fawful6 karma

DF is always fun provided you remember to build lava flows into the nobles rooms.

117115101114110097104 karma

My friend had a child murder people in that game.

Koneke11 karma

I had a child murder the mayor, who was a vampire, by locking the mayor in a room filled with spike traps and having the child trigger them with a lever from outside, over and over again, until the mayor was nay more but a pool of blood. :)

throwaway82374611 karma

Sounds Fun.

Tacticalbacon19 karma

Personally I prefer games like the older and newer Fallouts, Civilization 5, Counter Strike, and Red Orchestra 2.

Follow up question: What about RPG games like Fallout and Skyrim? If any what effects do they have that differs from a regular FPS game like Halo or CoD?

throwaway82374634 karma

It's more a matter of the consistency of the visually-intensive experience. In Fallout you've only got one or two things "going on" on-screen at a time for most of the game, and only rare situations where you've got 3 or 4 enemies to deal with. FPS have that pretty much the whole game.

djbros294 karma

Have you tested any rhythm or music based games? I could see games like Osu! being able help kids with visual attention skills because of there fast paced non-stop gameplay.

throwaway82374677 karma

Our lab, and most scientists, are primarily interested in the underlying processes that are being influenced by video games. Our lab is primarily focused on studying neural plasticity, and the games are only worth our attention because they actually trigger plasticity.

I'm sure other labs are checking other genres of games for all kinds of behavioral changes. But our lab has never made testing lots of different types of games a priority.

Friedso64 karma

I recently watched a documentary that said that pianists develop a knob on the left hemisphere of the motor cortex, while violinists (and people who learned to play other stringed instruments), on the right. Do you think playing games for years and years could lead to the same thing?

(I'm a complete layman, so sorry if something is wrong.)

throwaway82374658 karma

As far as I know, no it will not. I've never heard of the studies you're referring to. Would be interesting if true though....

HarryBalsonya_39 karma

Is there a noticeable difference in decision making for someone who play a descent amount of video games (3-5 hours a week) to someone who doesn't play at all?

throwaway82374696 karma

Well, the findings aren't quite as simple as "better at making decisions".

Ordinarily, you see what we call a speed/accuracy trade off. You can go faster but there's a cost. You can get better at a task with training, and even a little faster. But there's a limit for most people in terms of how much faster they can get without hindering performance.

With gamers, they can simply go faster. They have the same trade off as normal people, but it begins to set in a whole lot later. They can get major speed gains without the same accuracy penalty as non-gamers.

So to answer your question, they're not making different decisions or are necessarily better at deciding. They're just doing it at a faster rate. Our lab does training studies where we bring in non-gamers and make them play FPS games for a few weeks. Typically 5 hours a week for 40 hours (5 or 6 weeks) is enough to induce some of these changes. The longer you play the more those gains will set in.

Bear in mind it has to be FPS games. Testing with other genres hasn't given us comparable results.

philoscience8 karma

Thanks. I find some of Daphne's latest work trying to describe a computational model underlying those speed-accuracy improvements to be particularly fascinating. Does she have any future plans in this area?

throwaway82374614 karma

Doubtless she does.

TadamoriY13 karma

Also is there an optimal number of hours? Or a limit you may have discovered where the advantages start to decrease or become negative?

throwaway82374632 karma

As far as we can tell, more is better. And people who play for years and years are even better than our trained subjects.

Bear in mind, we're only interested in improving visual attention. As for other effects......

Chief_Studly24 karma

Can you please talk some sense into the Australian Classification Board. Seriously, I don't think they know what they are doing...

Signed - Every gamer in Aus over 18.

throwaway82374621 karma

I wish.

Swarrles21 karma

Hi there, do you believe that kids who play video games are better off in visual reactions compared to the average teenager who doesn't play video games?

Can't other activities such as hockey, baseball, football etc develop the same exact skills at a faster pace? I imagine someone who faces real consequences for making a wrong splitsecond decision (mountain biking, etc.) would be more focused on developing their judgment skills more so than your standard gamer.

I say this as a gamer and a sports player, I don't believe my gaming life has helped me in any way outside of gaming itself, it's more of a net loss considering wasted time. I've developed the reaction skills I need to by playing sports and had I not played video games I would've been outside more and probably would have played sports which means I would probably have better spent my time more healthily.

throwaway82374664 karma

First person shooters improve visual attention. Visual attention is things like tracking multiple moving objects and orienting attention quickly. Playing these kinds of games improves everything that makes use of visual attention by training the underlying system. So yes.

Actually they'd develop those skills more slowly. The FPS environment is pretty much the most visually demanding one you can find. For context, we train people on a map designed for 4-8 players. We give them 16 opponents. It's intense, much more intense than baseball.

You're probably healthier for being outside, but gamers' visual attention systems are far superior to yours and most other humans.

Uehen15 karma

Why no RTS love?

throwaway82374649 karma

Because FPS are the only games we've found that induce plasticity. The important factor here is focused attention in a visually-intensive environment. FPS are the uber-examplar for that kind of experience. Some other labs are trying to find similar results with RTS, but with less success.

pgkelly13 karma

what sort of different results might be expected in a more complex FPS game? something that includes a more complex weapon/loot/ammo/powers system, along the lines of bioshock or borderlands, that incorporates multiple types of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as player character stat improvements?

throwaway82374653 karma

The complexity of what "surrounds" the FPS experience isn't important. It's all about the necessity to track and adapt to a large number of things happening simultaneously in the visual field.

So none of those things would make any difference on the effects we see.

Typhun10 karma

I did a paper for a class about a month ago concerning Fetal Heart Rate monitors and accuracy issues with detecting early/late decreases and increased in heart rate. Previous reviews of the topic showed that trained professionals showed no significant difference with college students who had been trained for just a few minutes. For further study, I actually suggested examining the accuracy of people who play video games on the same task of monitoring fetal heart rate monitors. Good to see that I was on the right track :P

throwaway82374639 karma

It's crazy, video game players are more actually better at performing certain kinds of surgery than medical students. Citation Video games train a ton of things.

Orionche9 karma

In your opinion, where would this enhanced ability be of most use in RL? what kind of job/career would benefit the most?

throwaway82374621 karma

Probably the military, as far as a career goes. Sad face.

But these findings ought to help elderly people drive better. I'm trying to get my parents to play Halo on my old XBOX.

philoscience9 karma


I'm a post-doc working with cognitive training and neuroplasticity, and a longtime fan of your labs work. I have two questions. First, what is your groups response to recent evidence that common "active controls" used in studies of videogames (typically the sims or tetris) elicit differential expectations for improvement, leading to motivation/demand characteristic confounds? Have you tried measuring participants specific expectations to improve on each tested measure?

Second, i'm working a lot with meta-cognition and am considering a study on vision, meta-cognition, and gaming. Have you conducted any research in this area, for example using the meta-d' methodology? If so i'd love to know how this went so I can plan my own study around that.

Bonus question: have you examined differences between playing something like call of duty offline vs online (multiplayer)? From the perspective of social cognition and joint attention I think this would be an extremely interesting contrast, and would perhaps control more directly for the issue mentioned in question 1.

throwaway82374614 karma

We ask our subjects after-the-fact regarding their expectations for improvement. Both control and experimental groups don't report any expectations that relate to the kinds of things we test. Ex, someone once said simply that they thought it would help hand-eye-coordination. We don't ask about every measure because we usually throw the kitchen sink worth of tasks at them and it would be a pain, also we don't want to tip them off.

Personally I'm interested in similar questions, and as far as I know they haven't been done. PM me and we can talk on a more professional level.

We only use offline play against exclusively AI opponents. It's to control the difficulty and make sure the experience is uniform across subjects.

TadamoriY8 karma

Are there principles or tips/strategies on more efficient/faster decision making you discovered from your study? What can people do to strengthen this trait based on your research? (Besides playing video games) Do you have plans to test different types of games in the future or expand on this research?

Edit: changed my question since you tested for only 2 games.)

throwaway8237467 karma

Reply after your edit.

The big draw for us as researchers is not video games. It's the fact that playing these specific games induces plasticity. And we care about plasticity. We're not investigating other types of games in our lab, but other labs are.

throwaway8237465 karma

See this reply. The decision-making we're talking about here is mostly related to responding faster without suffering accuracy penalties.

hate_is_beautiful6 karma

I know I missed the boat, but on the off-chance you check back on here: Do you think the emergence of "Virtual Reality" style gameplay like that offered by the upcoming Occulus Rift will improve on the results you've seen so far?

The reason I ask is because you made a point of the visually-intensive environment, and it seems that the kind of immersion VR offers would be incredible even compared to what we already get with your average on-screen shooter.

throwaway8237465 karma

Playing FPS with an Occulus Rift will probably give you the same results as without one.

silentmarine6 karma

Have you or your group studied any other genres besides FPS or the ones already mentioned?

throwaway82374611 karma

Yes, but they don't get the same benefits to attention we see with FPS.

PutridPleasure4 karma


throwaway82374613 karma

You get fat. (Source; experience) =(

bourgeot3 karma

Do you have any advice for an aspiring scientist? College advice specifically.

throwaway8237469 karma

Talk to your professors, ask questions in-class when something interesting strikes you. Take math.

Chrysippos2 karma

What are your thoughts on this article which criticises you (Not so fast: Rethinking the effects of action video games on attentional capacity) ?

What are your responses on the following articles, which found lessened or non-existent effects (Durlach, Kring & Bowens, 2009; Boot et al., 2008) ?

Do you believe that there is publication bias in this specific subfield ? Thank you for your time.

throwaway8237463 karma

I haven't read it, I'm sure my boss has.

All I know about their group is that their training regimen is not the same as ours and their definition of "gamer" and "nongamer" is also different. I imagine that using less distinctive populations (their studies are less severe in how they split the groups) has made it harder to show significance.

But you'd have to ask my boss.

sabre2522 karma

So does this lend credibility to sites like Lumosity? I always thought it was garbage but maybe not?

Also - it seems like games with tons cues produce more pronounced effects? (unless I'm misunderstanding) Should I go and play Counter-Strike all day to up my cognitive ability? Would RTS like Command and Conquer work too?

Thanks for doing this!

throwaway8237463 karma

Brain-training games have limited support in the literature. Personally I wouldn't bother.

westinwolfe2 karma

Thank you for doing these studies! I am a psychology and neuroscience student myself.
Just curious, were the players playing campaign or were they playing online against real players? I think this is important because the online gameplay is drastically different than the standard campaign. If the players weren't playing against other real players, I think the study would be even more interesting if they were. The online gameplay is much more challenging and fast paced.

Thanks for the AMA !

throwaway8237463 karma

We used AI enemies in all our studies. Real opponents are bad because you can't control their skill level for all subjects.

WebMDeeznutz2 karma

There was a show on discovery channel (I think) that was a vetting process for those aspiring to be stock car racers. During these driver test, they ran experiments to see decision making based on a very large set of extraneous details plus a small amount of pertinent info.

The results seem to be very similar and consistent with the results you viewed.

Not really a question, just though you might be interested in the results/ may even be familiar with the scientist who ran these test.

throwaway8237466 karma

Funny thing about video games, they actually do prepare you for the things they train. A few years ago they let elite Gran Turismo players have a shot at actual racing, and they did almost as well as the professional drivers.


CluckingCow2 karma

Since I heard this I had been wondering alot:

  • does it make a difference, if you're on a console or pc etc.

  • does the refresh rate and frame rate of the screen matter? If one subject was playing 144fps@144hz and another subject on 60fps@60hz. Would the 144hz subject get more used to their eyes "refreshing" faster...

Have a good day ^ ^

throwaway8237463 karma

No and no, as far as I'm aware.

BeatLeJuce2 karma

What exactly did your job as a lab technician entail? You seem to have a deep understanding of the studies you performed, yet I typically would imagine a lab-technician is more someone who just sets up the computers, etc....

spicymonkey132 karma

Of the researchers in your group who were moderate-to-avid gamers before the study, how many had a decrease in their interest in gaming? (Basically, did dissecting something you enjoy take the fun out of it?)

throwaway8237463 karma

I'm the only gamer in the lab actually. I didn't like FPS before and I still don't like them.

So no.

SadEyedKitten2 karma

Do you consider yourself creative in the kitchen at all? What is your preferred style sushi?

throwaway8237462 karma

I can cook all right, I like spicy tuna rolls.

the1republican1 karma

Was there any evaluation of the accuracy of responses related to the timeliness ?

throwaway8237461 karma

Yes, faster without sacrificing accuracy. That's the cool finding here.

Aquason1 karma

7 hours later and it has been opened back to the public!

You say in this topic that you play games like Dwarf Fortress and other strategy games, what was the earliest game you can remember playing? First console/computer to play games with?

How did you get this job?

Favourite Ice Cream Flavour?

throwaway8237461 karma

I played the fuck out of Chips Challenge back when my Dad still ran Windows 3.1

I'm a PC gamer, not console. Currently enjoying Civ 3 I bought for $5 and Kerbal Space Program.

I saw it listed in a newsletter for one of the cognitive sciences societies. I was just finishing my bachelors degree in Psychology and emailed the PI directly.

Cold Stone has Banana. I like to get half banana, half vanilla mixed together without anything else. My girlfriend thinks it's gross. I also like black raspberry.

toelock1 karma

I find that studies around gaming always produce mixed results, where some deem them bad for cognitive thinking, creativity and to encourage violent behaviour while other studies claim the opposite. Have you or your lab ever been approached by people who wanted you to release fabricated or altered results in order to make something appear different from what you originally discovered/verified?

throwaway8237461 karma

You'd have to ask my boss.