Do Action Video Game Players Search Faster Than Non-Players?

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Studies have shown that action video game players have enhanced visual abilities in various domains, such as multiple object tracking, size of the useful field of view, and visual search speed and accuracy. These improvements have been attributed to either a general advantage in “learning to learn” abilities, or domain-specific enhancement(s) in the “common demands” between specific games and experimental tasks. To investigate these two theories, we conducted six experiments examining whether and how players and non-players differ in various aspects of visual search. First, we used a staircase to determine the minimal display duration (Experiment1a) and target-distractor color difference (Experiment1b) required for participants to successfully identify a target in a color search task. Next, we assessed participants’ search speed and the cost of switching target and distractor identities when there is one (Experiment2a) or multiple distractor types (Experiment2b). Finally, we measured search speed in harder T/L search (Experiment3a) and game-style figure search (Experiment3b). This study is the first to use both a staircase procedure and standard response time measures to discern differences between players and non-players in visual search. The results suggest that players search faster than non-players only in Experiment2, where performance degraded with increased distractor variability for non-players but not for players. Players also exhibited a smaller cost to switching the target and distractor identities. These findings imply that while there might be no overall enhancement in players’ search abilities, they might benefit from holding variable distractor templates and switching their search target, potentially due to gaming experience which often necessitates memorizing and switching among multiple objects to monitor/avoid (as in first-person shooting games). These results support the “common demands” theory. In addition, our collected data on the specific games participants play allow for a more systematic evaluation of which games might enhance which search-related abilities.


Zoe (Jing) Xu (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign)
Simona Buetti (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign)
Alejandro Lleras (University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign)

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