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They are often accused of being distracting, but recent research has found that action packed video games like Halo and Call of Duty can enhance visual attention, the ability that allows us to focus on relevant visual information. This growing body of research, reviewed in WIREs Cognitive Science, suggests that action based games could be used to improve military training, educational approaches, and certain visual deficits.
The review, authored by a group led by Dr Daphne Bavelier from the University of Rochester, focused on the impact video games have on visual attention, the mechanism which allows us to select relevant visual information and suppress irrelevant information, allowing us to function in a world made up of infinite visual data.
While gamers were found to outstrip nongamers in these tests, they also found that not all video games provide the same benefits to attention. Fast-paced, action based games that emphasized rapid responses to visual information and required divided attention seemed to be the only ones that affected attention specifically.
Training studies have also shown improvements in the visual attention of non-gamers given experience playing these video games, establishing that it is the actual video game play that is causing the benefits. This finding that video games can enhance visual attention abilities may have implications for military training and broader education, as well as clinical rehabilitation programs for conditions such as amblyopia.