Videogames help brain sharpen visual skills

Brain Health
Videogames sharpen the visual processing skills of frequent players, while also improving the brain’s ability to learn those skills, according to a new study. In the study, Yuka Sasaki, associate professor (research) of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University and colleagues pitted nine frequent gamers against a control group of nine people who game rarely if ever. They participated in a two-day trial of visual task learning. Subjects were shown an on-screen “texture” of either visual or horizontal lines and had to quickly point out — in a fraction of a second — the one area where an anomalous texture appeared. In visual processing research this is a standard protocol called a “texture discrimination task.” Prior studies have shown that most people can be trained to improve their performance on such tasks, but only if they are given enough time for the learning to “consolidate” in their mind, presumably as neural circuits embodying the learning take shape. If they move on to a second task too quickly, for example, that could interfere with their learning of the first one. Sasaki and co-authors wanted to find out if gamers were better able to overcome this interference, compared to non-gamers. They therefore trained the subjects on a second similar task soon after training them on the first. If in the first task the main texture was horizontal, for example, the second time it was vertical, or vice versa. The first day the subjects trained on each of the two tasks (in a randomised order). The next day they did each again (and again in a randomised order) so the researchers could assess whether they improved. To improve, a person had to reduce the milliseconds of time it took to discriminate the textures at a given level of accuracy. What the researchers found was that gamers managed to improve performance on both tasks, while non-gamers did what was expected: They improved on the second task they trained on, but not on the first. Learning the second task interfered with learning the first. The data showed that gamers on average improved their combination of speed and accuracy by about 15 per cent on their second task and about 11 per cent on their first task. Non-gamers produced the same average 15 per cent improvement on their second task, but they actually got a bit worse on the first task they learned, by about 5 per cent. The exact neural mechanisms underlying visual or perceptual learning are not yet known, Sasaki said, but the study suggests that gamers may have a more efficient process for hardwiring their visual task learning than non-gamers. The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE. Source: The Asian AgeReference-Image: