In a study published in the June 2005 issue of Acta Psychologica, researchers found that heavy video game players may visually find objects in a busy environment faster than non-gamers. Dr. Alan Castel, a post-doctorate fellow in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, compared responses of students who play video games at least two hours a day, six days a week, to the reactions of video game novices. Expert gamers located target objects on a busy computer screen an average of 100 milliseconds more quickly than novices, but gamers didn’t display any significant difference compared to non-gamers in the concept of "inhibition of return," meaning the amount of time a person takes to return to a search location after having previously failed to find the desired target in that location. In other words, gamers don’t appear to have any different visual search strategy than non-gamers, they just search faster.
The study may have implications for rehabilitative therapy techniques, but lest avid gamers cite this study to justify one more Grand Theft Auto session before bedtime, the real-world implications of the study aren’t clear. Heavy gamers might have a slightly better motor response time in some visually-oriented real-world tasks, such as sports or driving, but other studies suggest that motor skills and responses developed for specific activities may not translate to other tasks: instead, people continue just improve their performance at specific activities. So, playing lots of video games may only make you a better gamer. Who’d have thought?