Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Playing video games improves basic visual function.

Playing action-based video games has been shown to improve attentional processing. Li et al. now find that it also induces long-lasting improvements in contrast sensitivity, a basic visual function that commonly deteriorates with age. These improvements do not happen for an equivalent group who played a non-action video game. Contrast sensitivity is one of the main limiting factors in a wide variety of visual tasks, and it is one of the aspects of vision that is most easily compromised. Here is a useful illustration of contrast sensitivity, from an accompanying review of their work (click to enlarge).

Stimulus contrast and tests of visual function - Top, examples of low- (left) and high-contrast (right) sine wave gratings. Simple stimuli such as these are often used in perceptual learning experiments. Bottom left, an example of a Snellen Eye chart used to measure visual acuity. Bottom right, an example of a Campbell-Robson contrast sensitivity function chart. To see your own contrast sensitivity function, look toward the top of the chart, where the white-black modulations should 'blend in' with the gray background. The inverted-U shaped curve that you see indicates that contrast sensitivity is better for mid-range spatial frequencies than for low or high ones. Playing action-based video games improves contrast sensitivity, effectively 'pushing' this curve upwards.


  1. Anonymous6:12 AM

    Congratulations for this fantastic blog !
    I am looking for a perceptual learning programme or software with sine wave gratings.
    Could you make any suggestion please?
    Many thanks.

  2. This research isn't surprising. As humans, we generally improve in whatever we do with practice. World class drivers didn't get that way overnight. Their reaction time and ability to make good decisions quickly improved as they spent more time in competition.

    It's natural that gamers would improve in the areas that you've described in your article. What's even better is that they don't have to think about applying the skills they've gained in order to benefit from them. It just comes naturally.