Media Releases

University of Toronto study finds action video games bolster sensorimotor skills

October 17, 2014

TORONTO, ON — A study led by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to psy­chol­o­gy researchers has found that peo­ple who play action video games such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed seem to learn a new sen­so­ri­mo­tor skill more quick­ly than non-gamers do.

A new sen­so­ri­mo­tor skill, such as learn­ing to ride a bike or typ­ing, often requires a new pat­tern of coor­di­na­tion between vision and motor move­ment. With such skills, an indi­vid­ual gen­er­al­ly moves from novice per­for­mance, char­ac­ter­ized by a low degree of coor­di­na­tion, to expert per­for­mance, marked by a high degree of coor­di­na­tion.  As a result of suc­cess­ful sen­so­ri­mo­tor learn­ing, one comes to per­form these tasks effi­cient­ly and per­haps even with­out con­scious­ly think­ing about them.

“We want­ed to under­stand if chron­ic video game play­ing has an effect on sen­so­ri­mo­tor con­trol, that is, the coor­di­nat­ed func­tion of vision and hand move­ment,” said grad­u­ate stu­dent Davood Gozli, who led the study with super­vi­sor Jay Pratt.

To find out, they set up two exper­i­ments. In the first, 18 gamers (those who played a first-per­son shoot­er game at least three times per week for at least two hours each time in the pre­vi­ous six months) and 18 non-gamers (who had lit­tle or no video game use in the past two years) per­formed a man­u­al track­ing task. Using a com­put­er mouse, they were instruct­ed to keep a small green square cur­sor at the cen­tre of a white square mov­ing tar­get which moved in a very com­pli­cat­ed pat­tern that repeat­ed itself. The task probes sen­so­ri­mo­tor con­trol, because par­tic­i­pants see the tar­get move­ment and try to coor­di­nate their hand move­ments with what they see.

In the ear­ly stages of doing the tasks, the gamers’ per­for­mance was not sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter than non-gamers. “This sug­gests that while chron­i­cal­ly play­ing action video games requires con­stant motor con­trol, play­ing these games does not give gamers a reli­able ini­tial advan­tage in new and unfa­mil­iar sen­so­ri­mo­tor tasks,” said Gozli.

By the end of the exper­i­ment, all par­tic­i­pants per­formed bet­ter as they learned the com­plex pat­tern of the tar­get.  The gamers, how­ev­er, were sig­nif­i­cant­ly more accu­rate in fol­low­ing the repet­i­tive motion than the non-gamers.  “This is like­ly due to the gamers’ supe­ri­or abil­i­ty in learn­ing a nov­el sen­so­ri­mo­tor pat­tern, that is, their gam­ing expe­ri­ence enabled them to learn bet­ter than the non-gamers.”

In the next exper­i­ment, the researchers want­ed to test whether the supe­ri­or per­for­mance of the gamers was indeed a result of learn­ing rather than sim­ply hav­ing bet­ter sen­so­ri­mo­tor con­trol. To elim­i­nate the learn­ing com­po­nent of the exper­i­ment, they required par­tic­i­pants to again track a mov­ing dot, but in this case the pat­terns of motion changed through­out the exper­i­ment. The result this time: nei­ther the gamers nor the non-gamers improved as time went by, con­firm­ing that learn­ing was play­ing a key role and the gamers were learn­ing bet­ter.

One of the ben­e­fits of play­ing action games may be an enhanced abil­i­ty to pre­cise­ly learn the dynam­ics of new sen­so­ri­mo­tor tasks.  Such skills are key, for exam­ple, in laparo­scop­ic surgery which involves high pre­ci­sion man­u­al con­trol of remote surgery tools through a com­put­er inter­face.

The research was done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Daphne Bave­li­er who has appoint­ments with both the Uni­ver­si­ty of Gene­va and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester. Their study is pub­lished in the jour­nal Human Move­ment Sci­ence.

Full arti­cle:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Davood Gozli
Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-6587

Jay Pratt
Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4216

Kim Luke
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-4352