When it comes to visual learning, gamers may have an advantage over non-gamers. A study from Brown University found a correlation between people who play games frequently and learning retention in visual activities.
While the sample size in this study was quite small (18 participants total—nine frequent gamers and nine non-gamers), the results showed that there was a substantial increase in the gamers’ ability to learn two different visual activities in close succession. We’ve known for a while that while people tend to be good at learning a single task, moving on to a different task immediately after tends to negatively impact the learning retention from the first task. And while this was true for the non-gamers, the gaming group actually retained learning from both tasks.
The study was set up so that both groups would learn both visual activities (in a random order) on the first day, and then perform the activities again on the second day. Researchers wanted to measure the performance improvement on the second day, even if it was only by milliseconds. The non-gaming group performed as expected—they did much better on the second task they’d learned than the first; the results were a 15% improvement on the second task and a 5% decrease in performance on the first. The gaming group, however, improved their performance in accuracy and speed on both tasks; 15% on the second activity and 11% on the first.
The researchers couldn’t be sure exactly what was happening to explain the significant improvement in learning retention, but one theory is that gamers spend so much time honing their visual acuity that they’re more naturally suited to this type of task, much as professional musicians can learn to play a song quickly even if they’ve never heard it before. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that people who have natural visual learning ability are more drawn to video games, and therefore performed better as a result of some innate talent. In any case, we hope to learn more from studies like this one about how video games can positively impact our lives.