Study: Games narrow spatial skills gender gap

University of Toronto study finds lasting benefits from just 10 hours of action-oriented gameplay.

by

Researchers at the University of Toronto recently studied the effects of action gaming on spatial skills and discovered two things. First, there is a gap in spatial attention--the ability to quickly digest visual information from a wide field of view--between men and women. Second, that gap can be virtually eliminated by a relatively small amount of time spent gaming.

For a paper published in this month's journal Psychological Science, researchers Jing Feng, Ian Spence, and Jay Pratt took a group of 20 nongaming undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 32 and tested their spatial attention skills before and after game "training." One group of students tallied 10 hours of play time with the reflex-testing Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, and a control group spent the same amount of time with the more-relaxed pace of the 3D PC maze game Ballance.

EA's wartime shooter series was chosen because previous research found that first-person shooters could impact specific spatial skills. Atari's laid-back puzzler was chosen to provide a control group that would keep any results from being attributed to gaming in general.

"We wanted to find a game that didn't obviously involve rapid switches of attention across a wide area," Spence told GameSpot, "but we wanted it to have as many elements in common as the other game did."

In a separate experiment, the researchers found that gamers (those who play for more than four hours a week) from both genders performed better on spatial-attention tests than their nongaming counterparts and nearly even with one another. However, among the nongamers (those who hadn't played a game in the last three years), women performed worse than men on the same tests. They also found that science majors performed better than arts majors.

Although researchers have known for some time that there is a gender gap in higher-level spatial reasoning skills (of the sort required to properly rotate complex shapes in one's mind), Spence told GameSpot that he was unaware of studies that have shown such a disparity on lower-level skills such as spatial attention.

As for how the "training" experiment impacted the students' performance, there was little change among those who played Ballance, but the Medal of Honor players showed marked improvement from testing before and after playing the game. On average, female participants improved more than their male counterparts, significantly narrowing the gender gap. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that even five months down the road, the Medal of Honor players retained much of the enhanced spatial skills they had developed.

Although previous research in the field has also relied on first-person shooters such as Unreal Tournament, Spence believes a variety of genres and even 2D titles could also yield benefits.

"I think even driving games might exercise the same attentional skills," Spence said. "In things like Forza Motorsport or some of the other driving games, you've got to keep your eyes open and watch for events happening around you, things that appear suddenly and happen quickly."

Spence said he's planning to expand his research into gaming, first by studying driving games and their effect on elderly people, who he says "are known to have reduced spatial attentional skills."

"It's also known that people who do have reduced spatial attentional skills are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. They're also more likely to be involved in falls that injure themselves. We're going to start to explore the possibility that training them with video games might improve their attentional skills and also reduce their accident proneness."

Spence is also planning on doing some studies with the Wii. He says that the system's motion-sensing controller interface could provide even better results because it more thoroughly engages the motor system while requiring the same spatial reasoning skills. Despite the mainstream media's coverage of the Wii and other scientific research into gaming, Spence doesn't think that attention translates into ready funding for his research.

"I have a feeling there will be reluctance on the part of funders to fund these things because I think the reaction of most people is, 'That can't possibly be true. Playing video games can't possibly be good for you,' because of the negative you get from the violent and aggressive aspects of some games. ... I hope that we'll get funding to pursue this in more depth, but I'm not sure that we'll get it easily."

Discussion

142 comments
Wings_008
Wings_008

you see mom!, video games are good

elbarto69
elbarto69

Performing a simple Google search of the authors' names will bring up a free PDF file of the study, so go ahead and read that before everyone argues about Methods. Your answers are there. I found it to be an interesting article that was fairly well thought out compared to other research articles on video games. In my research, I'm finding that the bast majority of research on this subject is relatively weakly founded (relative to quantitative empirical research in, say, the biological field). Studies like this stand out as the beauty pageant winner when the contestants are all ugly as hell.

DevilMario54
DevilMario54

All I was trying to say guys is that they should tell us their methods so that we dont go around talking about the positive or what not ya know? Nothing else, and I do know about research methods, I go to Berkeley and Im studying this stuff, so I just thought it would help people to know that there are flaws in the methods, and the University should be ready to accept criticism, thats what science is about, being able to show other scientist that their findings are true and hae no flaws, but since this is a social science, thats really hard to achieve. Thats all Im saying, I wish video games were so awesomeit made my performance in bed, Im so all for gaming being a positive than a negative in our society, i just wish they proved this with as few flaws in the methods.

jazilla
jazilla

Nice to know that if I ever have to take on 20 Nazi's or whatever, I might be able to, lol. That is great that these guys get to study mundane things.

Merl57
Merl57

interesting article. I agree with the views of Spence totally. And so what if games are violent, the elderly were in WWII, the Iraq war happening, and every other media show violence as well. If any of these ignorant people saw the making of Halo3 and just how much effort from just how many talented people are required to make complex games I think they might have a better understanding of just how limited their perception of video games actually is.

wars45
wars45

love video games and am 27 and im geting moor and moor in to them has i get older gameing till i die lol

Azhar85
Azhar85

gaming is the future.....

bernieberry
bernieberry

video gaming can be good for you!!!!

petejams
petejams

Go Brendan, representin the GWN! Go UofT! - A Canadian living in America

willripyouanew1
willripyouanew1

Yeah we need a driving sim for elderly people at the DMV, that otta keep a lot of hazards out the road.

PopnFresh
PopnFresh

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

PopnFresh
PopnFresh

20 people from the same school? I hope they get funding to do a real experiment, because data from that small a sample is as useful as a spleen.

Beefycake
Beefycake

Show this article to your parent whenever they give you lip about playing too many games. Thatll shut them up.

Space-Q
Space-Q

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

chris_beeley
chris_beeley

DevilMario54 and borewyrm, you're both wrong about a couple of things. The five months down the road thing is a very common practice in psychology research, they use it with psychological therapies, all sorts of things like that. The study doesn't have huge amounts of external validity, but then again a lot of highly respected and vital research is performed only on undergraduates. I'm sure they would have randomised to groups- why wouldn't they? It doesn't say that the experimenters wore clothes either but I'm assuming they did. We don't know for sure if the sample size was too small, but since they are reporting what I assume is a statistically significant result then by definition the sample size was big enough. I don't see any evidence of data dredging either, and without seeing the paper it seems a bit unfair to assume that they did. I take your point about double blind, but in this kind of research I think it is far less important than, say, in medical trials, and very few studies of this sort are double blinded, in fact. I take your point also about "one study", but, again, that's science for you, and to be fair to the authors they clearly want to expand and replicate. No-one starts a programme of research with 1000 participants and a double blind condition. It's too expensive.

borewyrm
borewyrm

I am going to have to agree with DevilMario54. This reeks of poor scientific method. And five months down the road? To many variables between the completion of the intitial experiment and this five month mark. The moment the control and experimental groups left the building the experiment was tainted. The sample, like he/she said, was rather small.

TheJGene
TheJGene

@DevilMario54: What you are claiming may or may not be true: but the thing is we don't know how the research was designed. Do you expect GS to report the statistical methodology used to acheive the findings? Hardly, or it would be as interesting as watching paint dry. Maybe you should look further into the experiment design before canning it. Unless the University of Toronto is prepared to wear criticism by their peers for allowing the publishing of research results of poorly designed experiments, I think that it is fairly safe to assume that there is some statistically valid structure involved. My probability tables say so, anyway....

DevilMario54
DevilMario54

This **** is kinda lame for the following reasons: it has weak external validity, meaning that this cannot be a generalization you could assume held true to the population, also the i didnt see anything about the RCEpp, meaning that the groups might have been selected using judgment and not random like it should, another thing is that the sample was to small, which is prpbably why they couldnt expect to see equalization among the groups, also was this a double blind exp.? doesnt say, anyways the point of my rant is to show that this really means nothing, and there are so many confounding variables that could have cause the results, as well as data dredging, Im just saying guys, dont buy into little studies like this, or any other study people take, they are all mostly full of **** is what I found, pro or anti video games

Turbo-Evil
Turbo-Evil

They should see how Tetris effects you - I've been playing it recently and I think it would be good to study it.

Gorilla97
Gorilla97

jack thompson wants a 2nd opinion.

TheJGene
TheJGene

I think the only people who would disagree with this type of finding would be those who have never spent hours playing a fast paced fps game where positioning and spatial awareness are critical to survival.

ElvisNixon
ElvisNixon

There was an initial study on this that came out several years ago and it found that fps players were vastly better at visual tracking tests than average nonplayers. For example, they could track over 2 times as many targets.

fender_ketchup
fender_ketchup

They should've done another group, and tested them on a game that's really easy to die on, like the Insurgency mod for Half-Life 2. I bet those numbers would be even better.

ninjasam
ninjasam

plus if you play it on the wii, you will have to get accustomed to the terrible graphics, which may help with studying abstract art and concepts I remember another test like this, about hand eye co-ordination. I think they were playing gta vice city. We should test Hilary clinton. And she doesn't want little kids to play games. I have been playing games since i was 3, and violent games since i was, well since they came out.

I_AM_AROD______
I_AM_AROD______

Yet another thing Nintendo can use for their Wii adds to convince parents to buy it, of course they won't tell you that all video games do it not just the Wii. lol

nickythenewt21
nickythenewt21

I could've sworn video games did the exact opposite... but whatever! Another excuse to game is fine with me!

death919
death919

I concur with the results from this experiment.

Ek-Andy
Ek-Andy

Yes! Now i have an excuse to sit around and play video games all day, im just enhancing my spatial skills, whatever that means....

DarknessMF
DarknessMF

LOL I did an entire culminating project dealing with this. Most people don't believe me, but they are beginning to see the light after seeing my inhuman reflexes. And for people saying that playing video games is lazy......please, like reading a book is any different, in fact its even lazier than video games. I have 2 years of research that can prove them wrong, oh so very wrong.....

Ocram_Zepol
Ocram_Zepol

Ahh this is JUST what I needed. I'm doing a research project on how video games improve senses for my psychology class and this is really going to help me.

EE2lemmonhead
EE2lemmonhead

i think gaming is probably one of the best hobbies for your brain. i mean people thing your sitting their pressing buttons mindlessly watching gory gory gory gore but it really helps cuz ur actually doing stuff...i mean reading, you have to know how to read...that doesnt take much, same with tv and stuff, not to good for your brain

mrbojangles25
mrbojangles25

THat closing quote is so true. People have this image of what a gamer is engraved in their mind, and even if their son, daughter, husband, or wife is a gamer they still think its a negative thing....its too violent, it makes you lazy. Its just a freaking hobby! Would you rather I watch TV, collect stamps, read comic books, collect coins?....

console-deity
console-deity

Just because Jack Thompson and his cronnies claim our religion (gamology) is bad doesn't mean scat but this researcher is a good guy just trying to enlighten all the miss guided souls out there, may Ludus level him up.

comediankid4
comediankid4

see video games can be good for you in some ways!

vaultinasafe
vaultinasafe

That's what I've been telling my family for years!

chrisda
chrisda

what the heck is nightwings talking about? 00697man is right, try playing online

dbeddow
dbeddow

"group of 20 nongaming undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 32" You guys are right, it def isnt enough. I would like to see at least 1000 for this study. I dont think that many exist though lol. The only non-gamers I know are all 40+ yrs old.

Runningflame570
Runningflame570

While this is an interesting study I really question the validity of its results just due to the small numbers of people involved. To attempt to draw results about who is better at certain skills between things like different majors with only twenty people is ridiculous.

Runningflame570
Runningflame570

While this is an interesting study I really question the validity of its results just due to the small numbers of people involved. To attempt to draw results about who is better at certain skills between things like different majors with only twenty people is ridiculous.

00697man
00697man

hey nightwings.. its pretty obvious that you've never played any sort of competitive online game if you say they relieve stress..

Dryker
Dryker

Not to mention hand-eye coordination, orginizational skills, teamwork skills, and general kick-lots-of-butt skills. I don't care what anyone says or thinks, videogames can be the most engaging and productive activity one can do in a short, easily accessible, length of time and I'm sticking to that. Of the people I know who don't play videogames, most of them don't because they are intimidated by them and find them too challenging, they'd much rather sit on the couch with a beer and watch someone else doing something than actually do something themselves.

Great_Ragnarok
Great_Ragnarok

I agree with Proman84 lets see what the results are like when they get more funding.

nightwngs
nightwngs

video game not only increase hand eye coordination but, reduces stress, increases intelligence, and increases spatial skills. Plus women are increased more then men. ( There training use to be super soldiers , tactical, accurate, emotionless , problem solving, zombie assassins. Then one of use will go rogue and stop there plans and his name is............ ahhhhh they sent one to stop me from telling you hide yourselves my gaming brothers! HIDE! They got me. ) yeah it increasers alot to play games for a few hours.

Proman84
Proman84

I'm not sure that 20 subjects is enough to draw conclusions about any sort of experiments but cool.