Remember all those years you spent in your youth playing Half-Life and Timesplitters on your PS2, and how your parents would yell at you because they couldn't understand how playing video games would help you get ahead in the real world? Well, now you can call them up and show them scientific evidence that all those years you spent with a controller in your hands might just have made you a better driver.
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Hong Kong and New York University Shanghai discovered that playing easily accessible video games with a heavy action component for at least five hours a day can improve a person's visuomotor-controls, the motor skills that are used in real-world tasks such as driving.
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The study was published on Friday in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers conducted an experiment using test subjects who did not have any previous experience playing video games and separated them into two groups.
One group learned how to play the action video game,Mario Kart, while the other group was taught how to play the non-action video game, Roller Coaster Tycoon III. Both groups played their respective video games in 10 training sessions lasting one hour each. They were then asked to participate in a driving simulation in which they were told to steer a virtual vehicle down the center lane of a road in a crosswind that affected the direction of the car. The participants also played another video game as part of a second test in which they used a joystick to keep a floating dot centered on the screen.
The participants who played the action-based video game showed a significant improvement in their visuomotor control skills in both tests. The action-based gamers had more precision in the driving simulator as they attempted to stay in their assigned lane and respond to the crosswinds that tried to throw them out of their path. Those who played the non-action oriented game showed no improvement.
Now, of course, one way to look at this study is that people trained to play video games did better playing video games than those without training. Seems like kind of an obvious leap. Before jumping to the conclusion that more action gaming makes for better driving, we'd like to see a study that tests out real-world driving ability and its correlation with video games.
One interesting point that did emerge, however, is that in a secondary study, participants played the first-person shooter game Unreal Tournament and also saw improvements in the visuomotor control skills, showing that not only driving games, but other kinds of action games could help such abilities.
Li Li, an associate professor of neural science and psychology at NYU Shanghai who served as the lead author on the study, says both driving games and first-person shooters can be used to help improve driving skills depending on the areas that they need to focus on behind the wheel.
"The differing effects of driving and FPS video games on the sensorimotor system suggest that for experienced drivers, who have stable control but need to improve their ability to predict input error signals, training with FPS rather than driving video games is more effective," Li explains. "In contrast, for novice drivers, who are still struggling with obtaining stable control, training with driving rather than FPS video games is more helpful."
This isn't the first study to show that video games can have a positive effect on the human brain. A study published in November of 2014 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that playing action-based video games could increase the learning capabilities people need to help them anticipate certain real-world events.