Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Playing Shooter and Driving Videogames Improves Top-Down Guidance in Visual Search

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Playing Shooter and Driving Videogames Improves Top-Down Guidance in Visual Search

Article excerpt

Published online: 5 March 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Playing action videogames is known to improve visual spatial attention and related skills. Here, we showed that playing action videogames also improves classic visual search, as well as the ability to locate targets in a dual search that mimics certain aspects of an action videogame. In Experiment 1A, first-person shooter (FPS) videogame players were faster than nonplayers in both feature search and conjunction search, and in Experiment 1B, they were faster and more accurate in a peripheral search and identification task while simultaneously performing a central search. In Experiment 2, we showed that 10 h of play could improve the performance of nonplayers on each of these tasks. Three different genres of videogames were used for training: two action games and a 3-D puzzle game. Participants who played an action game (either an FPS or a driving game) achieved greater gains on all search tasks than did those who trained using the puzzle game. Feature searches were faster after playing an action videogame, suggesting that players developed a better target template to guide search in a top-down manner. The results of the dual search suggest that, in addition to enhancing the ability to divide attention, playing an action game improves the top-down guidance of attention to possible target locations. The results have practical implications for the development of training tools to improve perceptual and cognitive skills.

Keywords Action videogame * First-person shooter * Driving game * Top-down * Visual search * Dual search

Playing a first-person shooter (FPS) videogame improves performance on tasks that require spatial attention (Feng, Spence, & Pratt, 2007; Green & Bavelier, 2003, 2006b, 2007; Spence, Yu, Feng, & Marshman, 2009) and also alters the event-related potential waveform in ways that generally index top-down modulation of spatial selective attention via the inhibition of distractors (Wu, Cheng, Feng, D'Angelo, Alain, and Spence, 2012). Moreover, practiced FPS players show less activation in the frontoparietal network, suggesting more efficient top-down allocation of attention and better filtering of distracting information (Bavelier, Achtman, Mani, & Föcker, 2011). FPS videogame players also possess enhanced task-switching skills (Colzato, van Leeuwen, van den Wildenberg, & Hommel, 2010; Green, Sugarman, Medford, Klobusicky, & Bavelier, 2012; Strobach, Frensch, & Schubert, 2012), and Karle, Watter, and Shedden (2010) suggested that this is due to superior top-down selective attentional control. FPS players also do better when two or more tasks must be performed simultaneously (Chiappe, Conger, Liao, Caldwell, & Vu, 2013; Green & Bavelier, 2006a; Strobach et al., 2012). Indeed, the ability to deploy and guide attention plays a central role in most of the cognitive skills that have been shown to improve after playing FPS videogames (for reviews, see Green, Li, & Bavelier, 2010; Hubert-Wallander, Green, & Bavelier, 2011; Spence & Feng, 2010).

Classic visual search

FPS videogames often require the player to search for a target against a distracting background, such as an enemy sniper hiding behind bushes or the rubble of a building; this has much in common with classic visual search (Treisman & Gelade, 1980). Notably, FPS players are quicker in both easy and difficult conjunction visual search (Castel, Pratt, & Drummond, 2005), with players spending less time per item (Hubert-Wallander, Green, Sugarman, & Bavelier, 2011), consistent with increased efficiency in visual selective attention. However, it is not known how players perform in feature search-the so-called "pop-out" search (Treisman & Gelade, 1980).

During search, attention is required in order to select a target while filtering out distractors. According to the Guided Search model (Wolfe, 1994, 2007), top-down and bottom-up forms of information are used to construct an activation map that indicates how likely each element is to be the target (parallel stage). …

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