Kirstin Stokes Smith

Kirstin Stokes Smith is a web copywriter, blogger, born again yoga enthusiast, and the person to blame for the parents' video game ratings blog: MOMmentary on Games:

computer game brain 150x150 Violent Video Games Make Us Smarter?

Research is in and you might not believe — or like — what you’re about to read, but read on. According to Lydia Denworth, violent video games make us smarter.

My son (aka GamerDude) has been beside himself since he learned the topic of this blog post. Like a political campaign manager, he’s all about optimizing information to further his agenda — playing Call of Duty

. The GamerDude hasn’t read Denworth’s entire article (in January-February 2013, Scientific American), but he’s fascinated with the science behind this controversial finding.

Daphne Bavelier, a neuroscientist from the University of Rochester and the University of Geneva, has discovered that violent first person shooter (FPS) games “retune connectivity across and within different brain areas”. Translation: these gamers learn to learn, something Denworth calls “the holy grail of education”.

For over a decade we’ve been hearing that video gaming intensifies and strengthens players’ focus and decision making skills. Anecdotally, I’ve seen evidence of this with GamerDude, who easily wades into any situation, picking up the information he needs to complete tasks and achieve objectives. Academically, socially, and in sports he’s confident in his ability to put himself in the middle of the task, figure out what needs to be done, and take the appropriate action. I’ll concede that this may be inherently a GamerDude thing, but it’s interesting contrasting my anecdotal evidence with Bavelier’s research findings.

 Research method

So how did Bavelier determine that violent FPS games improve brain function?

In one of her tests, she showed gamers and non-gamers images of flashing squares on a computer screen then tested them on their ability to register items without counting them (testing their ability to track objects in a defined space). The result – gamers scored on the average of 4.9 items per minute compared with nongamers 3.3 items.

Bavelier and her research team have also found that gamers possess a high capacity to distinguish between colors — known as contrast sensitivity, which is a useful skill in driving, and reading X-rays. So it appears gamers have strong visual and decision making abilities, but what of the notorious hand-eye coordination that we hear so much about? According to Developmental Psychologist Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, it translates into success on the surgical table.

In 2007, thirty-three laproscopic surgeons were studied and tested for their accuracy, ability, and skill. According to Gentile, “the number one predictor of surgical skill was how good they were at video games,” adding, “the number two predictor was how much they played video games in the past.”  Interestingly, other researchers have made similar observations after testing pilots.

But is the violence really necessary?

According to Bavelier, it’s not. She’s working with Alan Gershenfeld (E-line Media) on the development of a game that optimizes her research findings and places them in the context of a non-violent game. At the end of the day, gamers are after a rich experience — one that includes high quality graphics and sound. They also want a game narrative they can invest in, and they want to be rewarded for their triumphs in the game. These aspects aren’t the exclusive domain of the violent FPS video game, so it’s up to us as parents to teach our kids (and ourselves) to be critical consumers/players, and to know when to unplug and actively engage in real life.

Kirstin Stokes Smith is a web copywriter, blogger, born again yoga enthusiast, and the person to blame for the parents’ video game ratings blog: MOMmentary on Games: You can also find her at MyShakyBodhi:



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