US Navy via Wikimedia Commons
Source: US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

Video games are a fascinating area of study, because they provide a realm in which people get large amounts of practice, and so there is an opportunity to look at the benefits of this practice on aspects of mental performance. Over the years, I have written a lot about both the potential dangers and benefits of playing video games. 

A recent study by Li Li, Rongrong Chen, and Jing Chen in the August 2016 issue of Psychological Science explored whether video game play benefits visuomotor control—what we often call hand-eye coordination. 

In one study, the researchers contrasted young adults who play action video games (including driving games and first-person shooters) at least 5 hours a week for at least 6 months to those who play less than an hour a month. They tested them on a driving game in which participants had to keep a car inside a straight lane. There was a randomly varying crosswind blowing the car side-to-side. 

Overall, the action video game players were better at this lane-following task than the non-game players. The game players were better than the non-game players at keeping the car in the lane. They also reacted more quickly and more accurately to the crosswinds. 

A second study replicated this result with a task in which a dot on the screen was randomly moved left and right using the same random function that generated the crosswind in the driving task. In this task, participants moved a joystick to try to keep the dot in the center of the screen. Again, participants who played action video games were more accurate than those who did not.

The last two studies manipulated game play. Participants were non-gamers.  In one study, one group played a driving game and a control group played a strategy game.  In a second study, one group played a first-person shooter game and a control group played a strategy game. All participants were tested on the dot task before playing and then again after 5 hours and 10 hours of game play. Participants played the game for one hour a day and were asked not to play any games outside of the sessions for the study.

Initially, all participants were equally bad at the task of keeping the dot centered on the screen.  Both the driving game and the first-person shooter game improved performance on the dot task.  The strategy game did not improve performance on the game. 

This study suggests that playing action video games benefits hand-eye coordination.  Playing these games requires reacting quickly and accurately to events that happen on the screen.  This practice improves coordination in other tasks as well.  Even five hours of game play was enough for participants to begin to see some improvement in performance.

More generally, these results demonstrate that there is a lot that people can do to improve their hand-eye coordination.  Engaging in tasks that require coordination can have broad benefits on people’s performance.  These results are particularly interesting in light of the number of adults who spend a lot of time just sitting in front of screens watching television, movies, and surfing the internet.  This work suggests that adults would benefit from more activities that require coordinated activity.  Even action video game play is likely to have greater benefit than passively watching a screen.

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