Blowing away enemy soldiers and aliens may be good for the brain, as researchers have found that fast-paced video games improve a player's learning ability.
People who play action video games such as Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty are better able to multitask, perform cognitive tasks such as rotating objects in their minds, and focus and retain information than non-players, according to Daphne Bavelier, a researcher in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester in New York.
They also have better vision. The reason is the games help people learn, even those who don't play regularly.
"People who play action video games get better much faster," said Bavelier.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains the benefits that stem from faster learning. Insights may be used to improve education or to help people with brain injuries.
Players were better able to predict what was coming next, even when they were asked to identify patterns that had nothing to do with the game.
"The brain has not just one neuron, but networks of neurons talking to each other," Bavelier said. "During the task, they were changing their connectivity on the fly to match the task at hand. They knew what was important to pay attention to and what was noise and distraction, and they could suppress distractions."
The researchers are now examining each game to tease out which elements are critical for improved learning. They are designing a non-violent game for children aged 8-12.
But for young people who do play video games, the findings are not an excuse to spend hours a day in front of a screen, Bavelier said.
"We know that kids who spend a lot of time on computers do less well at school."