First-person shooters aid decision-making speed

— 10:36 AM on September 14, 2010

Want to make decisions quicker? Play first person shooters. A study by cognitive scientists at the University of Rochester has discovered that, after a 50-hour training period with Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, ordinary folks were able to make decisions 25% faster than those who trained with The Sims 2. The decisions made by the FPS group were just as accurate as those made by the others, as well.

The authors' neural simulations shed light on why action gamers have augmented decision making capabilities. People make decisions based on probabilities that they are constantly calculating and refining in their heads, Bavelier explains. The process is called probabilistic inference. The brain continuously accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information as a person surveys a scene, eventually gathering enough for the person to make what they perceive to be an accurate decision.

"Decisions are never black and white," she said. "The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don't brake."

According to the researchers, those who play fast-paced action games are more adept at collecting the visual and auditory information used to inform our internal probability calculations. That allows gamers to "arrive at the necessary threshold of information" faster and thus make quicker decisions with no loss of accuracy.

What's remarkable about this study is that none of the subjects were regular gamers. Even after just 50 hours of gaming with old titles decidedly short on the volume of visual and auditory stimulus presented in the latest games, there was a clear improvement in decision-making performance. I suspect the same would be true of training with frantic StarCraft matches and high-speed driving games. However, roaming the World of Warcraft for hours on end may not have the same effect. Thanks to Rock, Paper, Shotgun for the tip.

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