Research conducted by scientists from the University of Rochester has shown that FPS (First-Person Shooter) browser games and skill games can boost your brain’s processing of visual signals. In a comparison between people who play skill games for several hours a day and people who do not play games at all, it showed that the first group is 20% better at identifying visual stimuli. A total of 30 hours of game play is enough to notice a significant improvement in our spatial forms processing. This means that players are generally much faster at recognizing certain shapes than the rest of the population.
In order to prove that, the researchers selected a number of students who either never played any skill games or played just a little. They were subsequently divided into two groups. Each of them was asked to play a certain type of game for one hour a day: the first group got an FPS game, while the latter was assigned a skill game that required as much hand-eye coordination, but was visually less complex.
The results were following: game play changed the way brain areas responsible for the processing of visual stimuli work. The more visually intense a game was, the more demanding it turned out to be for the brain. Apparently, with time the brain learns how to optimize the processing of abundant visual stimuli, hence its reactions are faster also in real-life situations.
Games can also help treat particular vision conditions. A pilot study conducted by optometrists from the University of California at Berkeley has shown that skill games can improve visual acuity and depth perception in adults with amblyopia, more commonly known as “lazy eye”, which is a disorder best described as vision deficiency in one eye that is otherwise normal.
The American researchers have demonstrated that as little as 40 hours of training are enough to significantly correct the impaired vision. Amblyopia can be successfully treated at a young age, yet in the case of adults it resisted all previously known methods of treatment. The new findings are, however, very promising: the researchers discovered that intense training, e.g., working on a task of setting two horizontal lines parallelly, may increase visual acuity by as much as 30-40%.
Unfortunately, task like the above mentioned one proved to be not only extremely boring and tedious but also leading to only selective improvement. This is why the Berkeley optometrists decided to check the effectiveness of computer games, since they provide a wider variety of stimuli. 20 patients with amblyopia aged between 15 to 61 years participated in the test. In part one, 10 people played shooting games for 40 hours. In part two, three other participants spent the same amount of time to play less, but still visually stimulating games. All had their healthy eyes covered up for the time of playing.
Both experiments demonstrated a 30% improvement in visual acuity. To exclude the possibility that the observed correction was a result of the covering, rather than game playing, a third – control – group was set. For 20 hours seven volunteers kept their healthy eyes covered by everyday activities, such as watching TV, reading or surfing the Web. It turned out that the vision of the third group volunteers showed no improvement. Later, the same people were asked to cover their eyes and play skill games like the two first groups. After 40 hours of game play their visual acuity improved as much as with other subjects of the experiment.
In the light of the growing number of new findings about the possible benefits of computer related entertainment, we should probably stop blaming ourselves when we sit down to spend a couple of minutes with online browser games. They may prove not that harmful as it was initially thought.
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