Playing video games offers learning across life span, say studies

Aug 17, 2008

Certain types of video games can have beneficial effects, improving gamers' dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve – attributes that have proven useful not only to students but to surgeons, according to research discussed Sunday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

In one paper, Fordham University psychologist Fran C. Blumberg, PhD, and Sabrina S. Ismailer, MSED, examined 122 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders' problem-solving behavior while playing a video game that they had never seen before to show that playing video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills.

As the children played the game, they were asked to think aloud for 20 minutes. Researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by examining the types of cognitive, goal-oriented, game-oriented, emotional and contextual statements they made.

"Younger children seem more interested in setting short-term goals for their learning in the game compared to older children who are more interested in simply playing and the actions of playing," said Blumberg. "Thus, younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games."

In a second paper, Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile, PhD, and William Stone, BS, described several studies involving high school and college students and laparoscopic surgeons that looked at their video game usage and its effects.

Findings from the student studies confirmed previous research on effects of playing violent games: Those playing violent games were more hostile, less forgiving and believed violence to be normal compared to those who played nonviolent games. Players of "prosocial" games got into fewer fights in school and were more helpful to other students.

Other studies involving students showed that those who played more entertainment games did poorer in school and were at greater risk for obesity.

A study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to those who did not play video games, said Gentile.

Advanced video game skill and experience are significant predictors of suturing capabilities, the researchers found, even after controlling for sex, years of medical training and number of laparoscopic surgeries performed.

A second study of 303 laparoscopic surgeons (82 percent men; 18 percent women) also showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not the play video games first.

"The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are played, the content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen, and how you control the motions," said Gentile. "This means that games are not 'good' or 'bad,' but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could."

In another paper, researchers Constance Steinkuehler, PhD, and Sean Duncan, MA, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison looked at how game-based learning can supplement textbooks and science labs in fostering scientific thinking. They analyzed a random sample of nearly 2,000 discussion posts in November 2006 where participants talked about various game-related topics.

Using codes based on national benchmarks for scientific literacy, discussions of the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft were examined to see what types of conversations took place, such as social bantering versus problem-solving, that classified as scientific reasoning. The game set in a fantasy world had players of various classes hunt, gather, battle and craft in order to strengthen or move their character up in "levels." Characters move faster when they work together.

The codes addressed a different aspect of scientific thinking, including reasoning using systems and models, understanding feedback, predicting and testing and using math to investigate a problem.

Scientific thinking can be learned in virtual worlds, said Duncan. The majority of participants (86 percent) shared their knowledge to solve problems and more than half the participants (58 percent) used systematic and evaluative processes indicative of scientific reasoning.

"These forums illustrate how sophisticated intellectual practices to improve game play mimic actual scientific reasoning," said Duncan. "Gamers are openly discussing their strategies and thinking, creating an environment in which informal scientific reasoning practices are being learned by playing these online video games."

Source: American Psychological Association

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AdseculaScientiae
not rated yet Aug 17, 2008
"Yeah, it really helps students with their problems how to kill most of their fellow students at school with a gun.."

Sorry for my rather dark humor; but I couldn't resist myself. It's probably not unreasonable to envision someone making this remark to put Games in a bad light once again. I sincerely apologise to anyone who feels offended.

I'm rather happy gaming has some positive news for its image. Gaming is not only fun, it can be helpful too!
makotech222
5 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2008
hmm ive been gaming all my life, since NES first came out im pretty much addicted. But im not some crazy gun shooting maniac (actually im quite a pacifist) I hate how adults who didnt grow up with video games see them as harmful to everyone. Theyre just blaming their bad parenting on games, when they should be in control, not forcing the government to, and trying to get money for it.
cybrbeast
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2008
"Findings from the student studies confirmed previous research on effects of playing violent games: Those playing violent games were more hostile, less forgiving and believed violence to be normal compared to those who played nonviolent games. Players of "prosocial" games got into fewer fights in school and were more helpful to other students."
This does not prove causality. It could very well be that people with violent tendencies tend to play more violent games. I myself love violent and non-violent games and movies, but I've never been in a fight.
AdseculaScientiae
not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
I agree cybrbeast, I've played many 'violent' games too, but am one of the biggest pacifists out there.

I can understand that violent games can be a trigger to agressive behaviour for many mentally unstable people, but that does not mean that violent games are at the root of their problems, for a completely different event could also account as this trigger.

'It is the straw that breaks the camel's back'
Bigdaddyguido
not rated yet Aug 21, 2008
Cybrbeast I couldn't agree more. I always get all excited over violent video games, sometimes buy them, and am constantly disappointed as I realize that I simply do not really enjoy violence, even simulated.

It would make at least as much if not more sense for violent people to be attracted to violent games than the violence in the game to drastically alter our perception of violence.

Additionally, its amazing that people are suspicious of gaming as a method for learning seeing as how virtually all learning by animals and children is achieved through play. Computers have infinite patience and never display frustration no matter how incompetent the user is. This allows children to work on their skills at their own pace without feeling inferior or belittled by the adults reactions.

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