Action Video Games Bolster Sensorimotor Skills, Study Finds

Maybe video games have gotten too bad a rap. A new study out of the University of Toronto indicates that kids who engage in action video games may actually be able to learn new sensorimotor skills better and faster than non-gamers. If this is the case, then there are some implications for career training in which action video games can play an important role.

The World of Sensorimotor Skill Development

We’ve all heard the term eye-hand coordination before, and we’ve seen great eye-hand coordination in action when we watch tennis players and people who type extraordinarily fast. These are learned skills that develop over time with practice.

The tennis player has developed great eye-larger motor skills, that is, his brain is picking up messages from the eye and sending to the arm that holds that tennis racket, so that the ball is hit. The typist on the other hand has developed skills that involve eye-small motor skills. S/he has practiced sending messages from the eye to the brain that in turns sends messages to small muscles that control such things as fingers.

Neuro-scientists know that all new sensorimotor skills must be learned over time. And people develop them at different rates. That is why it takes some children longer to learn how to ride a bike, tie their shoes, or write.

Why the Toronto study is Important

The Toronto study involved two groups of young adults – one group that played action video games at least 3 times a week and one group of essential non-gamers.

The researchers then gave both groups a video game to play involving trying to keep the cursor inside a continually moving box. The pattern of movement of the box was a repeating one, but there were quite a number of individual steps before the pattern repeated. Both groups started out pretty much at the same place getting the similar scores during the first round. During the second round, however, the gamers did far better than the non-gamers. What the researchers have concluded is this:

  • The ability to learn and master a new sensorimotor skill is easier and faster for individuals who have had lots of prior practice developing similar skills
  • While non-gamers improved in the new skill over time, it took them longer to do so. Lack of prior practice learning new sensorimotor skills that action video games provide, impeded their progress.

Many career fields do now and will in the future required highly complex sensorimotor skills. Think of the new developments in nanotechnology, especially in the field of medicine. Today, and even more in the future, surgeons will manipulating very tiny tools while viewing what those tools are doing on a computer screen. In fact, it is now predicted that most major surgeries will one day be conducted in this manner. Those individuals who have the ability to learn new sensorimotor skill quickly and well, will be needed.

Gamers – Take Heart

When others criticize the time you spend playing Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, just tell them that you are training for you potential career as a surgeon!