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Video gamers outperform nongamers in vision test

Participants in a study out of Duke are asked to identify one letter out of a circle of eight that flashes across a screen for a tenth of a second. The gamers turn out to be far better than their nongaming counterparts.

Quick, what just flashed across the bottom left of your screen? James Martin/CNET

Ladies and gentlemen, may I now present your deep thought of the day: People who play video games are better at playing video games than people who don't play video games.

OK, new findings out of Duke may be a bit more complex than that, but there's not much of a spoiler alert to this one. Hours spent at a gaming console seem to translate directly to a test, taken at a computer, of how the brain tracks visual stimuli, according to a new study at the Duke School of Medicine.

Researchers found 125 participants within a larger visual cognition study who were either "nongamers" (apparently this cohort was in short supply) or "very intensive gamers" (apparently this one was readily available). Each participant had to perform a visual sensory memory task that involved watching a circular arrangement of eight letters flash across a screen for a tenth of a second and being asked after as few as 13 milliseconds and as many as 2.5 seconds to name the letter that appeared in a spot an arrow is pointing to.

Though all players performed worse as time passed, the researchers report in the June issue of the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics that intensive gamers outperformed the nongamers at every single time interval in recalling the letter that had appeared in that spot.

"Gamers see the world differently," Greg Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the med school, said in a news release. "They are able to extract more information from a visual scene."

Semi spoiler alert number two: With time and practice, Appelbaum adds, "They need less information to arrive at a probabilistic conclusion, and they do it faster." Which could probably be said about most people investing time in most things.

What isn't clear is exactly why, and researchers are going to need to get more data from MRIs to explore precisely how the brains of gamers are behaving differently.

Initially they looked at three possible reasons for the gamers' superiority: longer visual memory retention, better vision, or better decision-making. While prolonged memory retention didn't seem to play a role (the memories of gamers degraded at about the same pace as the memories of nongamers), the gamers did appear to be starting with more information from the get-go, hence the better score at every time interval. Using MRI, the team may be able to figure out whether better vision or decision-making -- or some combination of the two -- is instead at play.

Funding for the study was supported by grants from the Army Research Office, DARPA, the Department of Homeland Security, and Nike.