A study in a virtual reality environment found that action video game gamers have better implicit time skills than non-gamers. They are better prepared to time their reactions in tasks that require quick reactions and they do this automatically, without consciously working on it. The paper was published in Communications Biology.
Many research studies have shown that playing video games improves cognition. These include an increased ability to learn on the fly and better attention control. The extent of these improvements is unclear and also depends on the gameplay.
The success of action video games depends on the ability of players to give precise answers at the right time. Players benefit from practice in which they refine their expectations of in-game development time, even when they are unaware of it. This largely unconscious process of processing time and preparing to respond in a timely manner to expectations about the changing situation in which the person finds themselves is called incident temporal processing.
This contrasts with explicit temporal processing in which a person makes a conscious effort to prepare to act in a timely manner. Implicit temporal processing has attracted the interest of researchers because it is precisely these mechanisms that appear to be impaired in patients with schizophrenia and other significant mental disorders. Could video games be used as a rehabilitation tool for these disorders?
“Video gaming is one of the most widespread entertainment activities around the world and across generations,” said study author François R. Foerster, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Center for Research in Cognition and Neurosciences at the Free University of Brussels. “As much as other daily activities, video games have perhaps shaped the way we perceive and think about the world for several decades. Understanding the impact of video games on our brain seems to me to be a crucial societal quest that can lead to the development of fun therapeutic solutions.
To investigate whether video games really improve implicit temporal processing, Foerster and his team designed a study in which they monitored the responses and electrical brain activity of a group of gamers and a group of non-gamers. in a virtual reality environment. The study included 23 gamers (mean age 25, 4 female), defined as people who spent at least 5 hours per week playing action video games in the past year, and 23 other participants who have played little or no action video games in the past. year (mean age 27, 7 women).
Each participant was seated in a chair and immersed in a virtual reality environment that consisted of an empty room in which they faced four robots. Each of the robots had a light whose color and appearance were manipulated (target).
“In our task, a target occurs at varying delays after an initial warning signal. The participants were informed of the two possible periods, namely 400 ms (short FP) or 1000 ms (long FP). The warning signal and the target were embedded in robots, which created an environment closer to video games and more entertaining than traditional computer tasks. Participants reacted to the target by pressing a button as fast as possible,” the authors explained.
Instances of a participant pressing a reaction button before stimuli were presented were recorded and used as an assessment of impulsivity. Eye-tracking software was used to monitor the participants’ binocular gaze during the experiment, and the researchers also continuously monitored their brain’s electroencephalographic (EEG) activity.
Contrary to popular beliefs that video gamers are impulsive, analysis of premature responses (responding before lights/targets are presented) has shown no supporting evidence. There was no difference between gamers and non-gamers in the number of premature responses. Compared to non-gamers, the researchers found that gamblers exhibited an increased ability to react when the prior period was long.
“In our daily life, we constantly interact with our environment on time,” Foerster told PsyPost. “It’s because our brain anticipates when, where and what we are about to perceive in order to behave at our best. The study shows that people who play action video games have better abilities to anticipate when they should expect to see something special.
“What was most surprising was that action video gamers’ eye reflex occurs faster than non-video gamers when anticipating the appearance of a light,” a- he added. “This eye reflex, reflecting the stability of your gaze, is entirely automatic and unconscious.”
The study sheds important light on the specific neurocognitive skills acquired through video games. The study authors note, however, that the design of this study does not allow strong causal inferences to be made about the effect of gambling on temporal cognition. Notably, future research should also take into account the possible influence of previous experience of virtual reality on the results.
“Knowing how video gaming leads to improved temporal anticipations is critical,” Foerster said. “Are there specific games that induce this improvement? How long do you have to play to produce the beneficial effect? These questions are crucial because play-based interventions could help patients with temporal disorders, as found in multiple psychiatric populations.
The study, “Neurocognitive Analyzes Reveal Video Game Players Exhibit Improved Implicit Temporal Processing,” was authored by Francois R. Foerster, Matthieu Chidharom, Anne Bonnefond, and Anne Giersch.
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