Action video games can improve driving, says study

mario kart

Action video games, such as Grand Theft Auto, are often emotionally engaging. People can play these games for hours without feeling tired. During playing, they might not realize that the games are training their body to respond better to the environment.

A recent study published in Psychological Science shows that playing action video games can improve people’s ability to coordinate incoming visual information with motor control. This coordination is a key part of daily driving.

The research was conducted by the University of Hong Kong and New York University Shanghai. Researchers first tested if playing action video games could improve visuomotor control.

With a driving simulation tool, researchers compared the visuomotor skills in people who played action video games > 5 h/day over the past 6 months and people who had no action video game experience.

They found that action video game players showed better lane-keeping and visuomotor-control skills than non-players. For instance, these players showed less deviation from the center when headwinds increased.

After that, researchers tested if action video games could be used in training people to improve daily driving skills. They trained one group of non-players to play an action video game (Mario Kart, a racing game), in which players drove a go-cart on a track. Another group of non-players played a non-action video game (Roller Coaster Tycoon III), in which they built amusement parks. The training lasted 10 hours.

Researchers found that playing Mario Kart for 10 hours could improve participants’ visuomotor control skills. This effect was seen after 5 hours of training, and it became greater after 10 hours. On the other hand, participants who played Roller Coaster Tycoon III did not show improvement in visuomotor skills.

A further experiment showed that the benefit was not just from driving-related action games: when participants were trained to play a shooting video game (they were the shooter), their visuomotor skills were improved too.

The finding provides a causal link between playing action video games and improvement in visuomotor control. It suggests that action video games can benefit daily skills such as driving and may be included in training programs.

Citation: Li L, et al. (2016). Playing Action Video Games Improves Visuomotor Control. Psychological Science, published online. doi: 10.1177/0956797616650300
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