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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Stretching the limits of visual attention: the case of action video games

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Visual attention is the set of mechanisms by which relevant visual information is selected while irrelevant information is suppressed, thus allowing the observer to function in a world made up of nearly infinite visual information. Recently, those who habitually play video games have been documented to outperform novices in a variety of visual attentional capabilities, including attention in space, in time, and to objects. Training studies have established similar improvements in groups of nongamers given experience playing these video games. Critically, not all video games seem to have such a beneficial effect on attention; it seems that fast‐paced, embodied visuo‐motor tasks that require divided attention (tasks commonly found in popular action games like Halo) have the greatest effect. At the core of these action video game‐induced improvements appears to be a remarkable enhancement in the ability to efficiently deploy endogenous attention. The implications of such an enhancement are relevant to a variety of real‐world applications, such as work force training, rehabilitation of clinical populations, and improvement of traditional educational approaches. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 222–230 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.116

Figure 1.

UFOV method and results adapted from Green and Bavelier.16 (a) The peripheral target could appear along eight radial axes at either 10°, 20°, or 30° from the center, where subjects were asked to fixate throughout the experiment. A Mondrian‐style mask followed stimulus presentation to eliminate use of afterimages to help localize the target. (b) Localization accuracy data for expert action gamers compared to nongamers. Gamers significantly outperformed nongamers at all three eccentricities, while matching their performance on the concurrent center identification task.

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Figure 2.

Schematic illustration of the Swimmer Task method, adapted from Ref 20. Subjects fixated at the center of the display and viewed a wide‐field array of randomly moving ‘swimmer’ targets while monitoring the scene for the abrupt onset of a ‘nonswimmer’ target, defined by its sudden lack of motion and rapidly waving arms. Nonswimmer targets occurred on 50% of trials and could appear at 10°, 20°, or 30° of eccentricity.

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Figure 3.

MOT method and results adapted from Green and Bavelier.28 (a) Subjects tracked up to seven pre‐identified target dots as they and a set of identical distractor dots moved randomly through a circular field. Motion stopped after 5 s, when one of the dots was probed. Subjects responded indicating whether the dot was a target dot or not. (b) Task performance in action gamers and nongamers. Gamers were able to reliably track one to two more items than nongamers, with the most prominent performance differences observed when subjects were asked to track three to five targets.

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