Action-game players get tutored in detecting a range of visual and acoustic evidence that supports increasingly speedy decisions with no loss of precision, the scientists report in the Sept. 14 Current Biology. Researchers call this skill probabilistic inference.
"What's surprising in our study is that action games improved probabilistic inference not just for the act of gaming, but for unrelated and rather dull tasks," Bavelier says.
Unlike slower-paced video games that feature problems with specific solutions, action video games throw a rapid-fire series of unpredictable threats and challenges at players. Those who get a lot of practice, say, killing zombies attacking from haphazard directions in a shifting, postapocalyptic landscape pump up their probabilistic inference powers, Bavelier proposes.
Psychologist Alan Castel of the University of California, Los Angeles, calls the new study "thorough and intriguing." Much remains to be learned, though, about whether and to what extent video-induced thinking improvements aid other skills, such as pilots' ability to land airplanes in challenging conditions.