Medical Minute 4-21: Video Games Boost Brain Power

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

For one hour a day - ten years straight - Ted Jacques has been playing video games. Yes - there's lights-a-flashing and guns-a-blazing, but please don't call it a waste-of-time.

"In fact, they are excellent tools for learning."

Professor Daphne Bavelier says action games improve a variety of general life skills. For instance - eyesight. Action gamers are nearly 60-percent better at distinguishing small changes in shades of grey.

"Which can be very useful when you're driving in the fog or at night," said Daphne Bavelier, University of Rochester.

They're also 25-percent faster in making right decisions in a changing environment. Driving on a busy freeway is a good example. And right here, a gamer is tested on finding faces in a crowd - a skill with real-world benefits.

"This ability to focus on what you're looking for and ignore everything which is a distraction is something, for example, which is very important in the classroom."

Action games also decrease visual crowding, allowing people to read small print easier. Testing shows two years after game play stops: Changes in brain activity are still there.

"If you play a little bit, the effects are going to be smaller. If you play a lot, the effects are going to be bigger."

Different studies show excessive gaming can mean sleep and aggression problems - so moderation is key.

"It is nice to be able to tell people I'm not just wasting my time and that there are benefits," said Ted Jacques.

Ted had a feeling he was on-to-something … now he knows for sure.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Tennis for Two was the first video game created, as a forerunner to the video games of this era. The game was introduced at Brookhaven National Laboratory on October 15, 1958, and drew in hundreds of visitors for a chance to play the new electronic tennis game. Tennis for Two involved only two players at a time. The controllers for each player were connected to an analogue computer, and an oscilloscope was used for a screen. William Higinbotham, the creator of Tennis for Two, was a nuclear physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, and also lobbied for nuclear proliferation. Tennis for Two was a two-dimensional game that utilized a digital dot, viewed on the oscilloscope, to serve as a tennis ball. The controllers, which contained buttons and dials, served as digital racquets to serve the ball.

This early invention paved the way for the future development of action packed games that are popular in today's gaming society. (SOURCE:

COGNITIVE IMPROVEMENT: Video games, particularly high-action, shoot-em-up games, have been shown to improve cognitive function. A game with an immersive environment, which closely resembles real life scenarios, causes the player to concentrate more on the game, and in turn, boosts cognitive functions.

First-person shooter fantasy games have not shown the same cognitive improvements as first-person shooter games more aligned with reality. (SOURCE:

LEARNING TOOLS: Video games are now being used as learning tools for students, and professionals. Playing high-action games improved test takers skills by increasing their accuracy, multitasking skills, speed, and vision. American soldiers are complementing their military training by utilizing high-action, shoot-em-up games like Halo, and Full Spectrum Warrior to increase their awareness, and to give them a sense of an actual war zone. In doing this, soldiers will familiarize themselves with similar conditions they may have to deal with, and will improve their cognitive functions on the battlefield. (SOURCE:;

For More Information, Contact:

Alan Blank
Senior Science Writer
University of Rochester, Office of Communications

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