Technology, from chatting on the internet to playing video games, has invaded all aspects of our lives and, for better or for worse, is changing who we are. Can we harness technology to effect more changes for the better? Yes we can, and not always in the way one might have expected. In a surprising twist, a mind-numbing activity such as playing action video games appears to lead to a variety of behavioral enhancements in young adults. Action video game players outperform their non-action-game playing peers on various sensory, attentional and cognitive tasks. They search for a target in a cluttered environment more efficiently, are able to track more objects at once, process rapidly fleeting images more accurately and switch between tasks more flexibly. In addition, action gamers manifest a large decrease in reaction time as compared to their non-action-game playing peers across many different tasks, without paying a price in accuracy. A training regimen whose benefits are so broad is unprecedented and provides a unique opportunity to identify factors that underlie generalization of learning and principles of brain plasticity. We propose that a common mechanism is at the source of this wide range of skill improvement. In particular, improvement in performance following action video game play may result from greater attentional control with gamers focusing on signal and ignoring distraction more efficiently. This in turn allows for enhanced integration of information during decision making with action gamers making more informed decision about their environment. We show how these processes may be be implemented by more faithful Bayesian inferences within neural networks consistent with the view that action gamers learn to learn.
Daphne Bavelier is Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, NY. She is also Co-Director of the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging and Director of the Mind-Space Laboratory. She is a renowned expert in human brain plasticity. Her research combines behavioral and brain imaging approaches to study how humans learn and how the brain adapts to changes in experience, either by nature - for example, deafness - or by training - for example, playing video games. Her laboratory has recently shown that playing certain types of entertainment video games induces a vast array of improvements in perceptual and cognitive abilities that extends well beyond the specific tasks in the game. A training regimen whose benefits are so broad is unprecedented and provides a unique opportunity to identify factors that underlie generalization of learning and principles of brain plasticity. Professor Bavelier entered the Ecole Normale Superieure of Paris, France, in 1985. She received her PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992 and was then a McDonnell-Pew fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk Institute, San Diego. She has been on the faculty at Georgetown University, and, since 1999, at the University of Rochester. She was a recipient of the John Merck Scholar Awards in 2000, a 21st Century Award Research Grant by The James S. McDonnell Foundation in 2002, and was selected as a finalist in the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in 2008. She has also been funded by the NIH, the NSF, the Charles A. Dana Foundation and the Packard Foundation over the years. She heads a Mutlidisciplinary Research Initiative (MURI) sponsored by the Office of Naval Research that studies complex learning and skill transfer with video games.