Playing action-based video games may boost people's ability to coordinate visual information with their motor control, a skill critical to many real-world behaviours including driving, a new study has found.

Beijing  : "Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as five hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving," said Li Li of New York University Shanghai, lead author on the study.

Experience playing some types of video games has been shown to confer benefits for specific visual abilities, such as sensitivity to contrast and visuospatial attention.

Using a driving simulation, researchers compared the visuomotor abilities of experienced players of action video games (those who had played at least five hours per week over the previous six months) to participants who had negligible action video game experience.

To establish a causal link between action video games and visuomotor control skills, researchers recruited participants who had no action video gaming experience to take part in a training study.

The participants were randomly assigned to either an action video game group or a control group, and they completed a total of 10 1-hour training sessions.

The action video game group trained by playing Mario Kart, using a steering-wheel controller to drive a go-cart on a track.

The control group played Roller Coaster Tycoon, using a mouse and keyboard to build and maintain amusement parks.

The two games featured similarly complex visual scenes and were both relatively easy to learn.

Importantly, the two groups showed similar levels of engagement with the games and similar improvement in performance over time.

The data showed that playing Mario Kart, a fast-paced action video game, improved participants' visuomotor control skills on the target dot task after five hours of training; they showed even greater improvement after 10 training sessions.

Those who played Roller Coaster Tycoon, a non-action strategy game, showed no such improvement over time.

Additional data showed that visuomotor benefits weren't limited to action games that involve driving.

In a similar study, the researchers found that participants who had no action gaming experience also demonstrated improved visuomotor control after playing Unreal Tournament, a first-person-shooter (FPS) game.

Intriguingly, the two kinds of action games had different effects on specific aspects of visuomotor control, suggesting that they may be suited as training tools for somewhat different audiences.

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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