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Video Games and Attention

Video games have been a popular source of entertainment over the past three decades and fuel a multi-billion dollar industry.

In the past ten years, scientists and researchers have been curious about the neuroscience and lasting impacts that video games leave on the brain.

Recent studies show that playing certain types of video games can improve various aspects of everyday living. A study by Green and Bavelier show that playing action video games can actually improve how fast people process events.

This experiment was designed by Dr. Christopher Brown at Wichita State University. Dr. Brown was the lead experimenter, along with the supervision of Dr. Evan Palmer, and the assistance of Robert May and myself.

Our research team's study was to find if we could improve visual processing speeds by creating specially designed game modes for people who have never played video games before. The objective was to train people about 45 minutes for four days and measure how well they did on a variety of visual tests, such as being able to notice differences object alignment. We performed two experiments with two different video game maps and objectives.

UX Hypothesis

We believe that training people who have never played video games before will improve the cognitive and attentive abilities of those trained.

We will know this is true by training the special population and comparing the before-and-after performances of several cognitive tests.

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Experiment Groups A and B,
courtesy Dr. Chris Brown

The two experiments used a modified video game that was specifically created to train certain visual and mental aspects. The goal was to have the game design be similar to the tests that our team was recording, such as peripheral vision, object discrimination, and short-term visual memory. You can try out similar tests at the end of the page to get a feeling for what those tests were like.

Our sample pool of potential participants were screened through a questionnaire that gathered information about how often multimedia is used and what types are used, such as watching television and listening to music, or using a phone while working on the computer.

We selected participants who said that they have not played any video games in the last six months. Our selection was discrete, and participants were not told they were selected because they did not play video games. We wanted to avoid any potential bias that may affect performance.

Our team tested each participant with a battery of tasks before and after the training phase, with modules that tested the performance of certain visual and attentional tasks. For example, in the Flanker Task which shows several arrows pointed a single direction and the center arrow facing another, participants were instructed to enter the direction of the center arrow as quick as possible. In training, latent object discrimination tasks were programmed to help train their accuracy on “target” vs. “non-targets”.

So what did we find out? In our rapid training sessions, we were able to slightly enhance the visual working memory and object discrimination, while noticeably improving participants' ability to detect objects in the outer rings of peripheral vision. All of these benefits in only three hours of training!

If you would like to read our brief article over the first experiment that was published in the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society, click here.

Want to try some of the cognitive tests similar to the ones from the experiment?

UX Skills Used:

Participant Recruitment: Screened specific populations and scheduled participants.

Conducting Experiment: Set up, ran, monitored and debriefed participants to let them know their participation did matter and explained the scope of the research they helped with.

Strategic Empathy: Reassured participants who were trying something unfamiliar and discouraging that they were actually doing well, and answering any questions they may have to encourage people try their best.

Quantitative Data Analysis: Performed T-tests and Chi-Squared tests to find significant results.

Synthesis: Turned the data and research results into a meaningful message.

Presentation: Created and performed several presentations, including a short version of one experiment that was published in an academic journal.