Video Games Make You Smarter… Really!


Can video games make you a better air traffic controller? How about a better surgeon? And, for the huge demographic bubble of baby boomers, can video games keep you cognitively sharp into old age?

Continuing our focus on brain fitness this week (see also Nap for Success), here’s another surprising research finding: video games make you smarter! And not just any video games like the sedate Tetris… it’s the action-packed shoot-em-ups like Unreal Tournament and Counter Strike that work best. Specifically, visual search skills were dramatically better in hard-core gamers compared to non-gamers:

In the experiment all of the participants in the Bavelier-Green study rest their heads on a chin rest and stare at a square in the center of a computer screen. Randomly a target… flashes at one of twenty four possible locations on the screen. Immediately the screen is flooded for about a second with a clutter of circles, squares, and lines. Finally, the screen goes blank and the participants are asked to remember where the target had originally appeared on the screen. Regular video-game players do this with about 80% accuracy, while nonplayes get ti right only about 30% of the time. [From Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance by Richard Restak (emphasis added).]

A second experiment showed that even non-gamers could do much better on the test after a mere month of game play. Clearly, if you are hiring air-traffic controllers, it would be good to know if they are serious gamers. And it’s not just that occupation…

Doctor, What’s Your High Score on Metal Gear?

Surgeons who play video games more than three hours per week commit 37 percent fewer errors in the operating room, are 27 percent faster at laparoscopic skills… and are 33 percent faster at suturing than surgeons who don’t play video games.

Boomer Bonus

Based on research on aging brains, Restak also suggests that playing action games may be better at preventing cognitive decline than “brain fitness” programs. It’s not that puzzles and brain teasers are ineffective, but rather that video games are infinitely more engaging and far more likely to keep the user playing over weeks or months. (Restak does caution that games featuring excessive and random violence like the Grand Theft Auto series might improve cognitive skills but also might have negative consequences as well.)

So, the news is good: spend some time with your Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or WII… you won’t have to feel guilty, because you’ll be stimulating your brain, improving your cognitive skills, and maybe even staving off the effects of Alzheimers.

  1. Piper Wilson says

    As a former air traffic controller and a current fuddy duddy, I just wanted to say that I’m glad I didn’t have to buy an X Box in order to complete my training.


  2. Roger Dooley says

    Sounds like you were way down the video game curve (only with real planes!) long before the current crop of games was invented.

    Thanks for stopping by, Piper.

  3. Dan says

    I can say with certainty that the years I spent playing Half Life: Counter-Strike in my freetime have paid off!

    I am much more aware of my surroundings at all times. I feel like other people who have not engaged in intense video games (particularly first person shooters) are slower to react to situations and understand what is happening around them.

    Playing this game and a few others casually has, without a doubt, increased my overall senses and coordination.

    I believe that first person shooters should in fact be a requirement for highly intense careers that require ultra-fast decision making.

    Great article.

  4. Scott Lovingood says

    So practicing quick reactions makes you better at it? Amazing discovery. (No sarcasm intended 🙂

    Anything we repeatedly do creates extra pathways in the brain. Keeping our brains active helps to strengthen our overall conditioning. I would suspect it is something similar to the effect seen in people who work out. General work outs increase strength in areas tangent to the specific area worked out.

    Taking martial arts will speed up your reaction times as well. When making a split second decision means the difference in getting punched in the face or not, you learn to react quickly 🙂

    Now if we could just develop a video
    game to improve our common sense, financial knowledge, and morality. Then we could write a story!!

  5. Richard says

    put an x box controler in a fitter jet and I’ll win a war signal handily well i tend to use two hands!

  6. Michael says

    I have been working in the brain fitness space since 2001 and we have come along way. There has been significant scientific studies over the last 5 years that illustrate how we can maintain and develop our cognitive skills through our lifespan. Our company has started to launch pilots that provide more efficacy to our software. I truly believe the next 5 years will see a lot of positive developments in this area.


  7. Tom says

    It will be interesting to see over the next 30 years how the first of the video game generation fairs. I think that video games will make a tremendous difference in their cognitive abilities and motor skills.

  8. Ewan Sheriff says

    Is this really nes to most people? I dont intend that to be patronising but any cognitive exercise has to be good, especially for the elderly and even if it is a video game.

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