1. Study suggests genre may impact cognitive training using video games

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the IOS Press press release:

    Video games are quickly becoming a hot topic in cognitive training. Many see them as a potential tool to help patients improve their performance and memory, yet little is known about how different types of video games may affect white matter in the brain and cognition. In a new study in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience investigators analyzed learning on two different types of video games — action and strategy — to determine if they were functionally different. They found that cognitive performance and white matter connectivity in the brain predicted how best we can learn to play the two types of games.

    Researchers discovered unique results from each type of game. Specifically, they found that processing speed and white matter connectivity in a brain region related to memory were linked to learning to play the strategy game, while learning to play the action game was related to a brain region governing mood. Both genres of game lead to better performance on tasks having to do with working memory. They also found that improved performance on a speed task was unique to subjects playing the strategy game.

    “When researchers use video games as a tool for cognitive enhancement, they assume that game performance relies on specific cognitive/brain function, yet there is a little evidence that establishes such a connection,” explained lead investigator Chandramallika Basak, PhD, Assistant Professor at The Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas. “Moreover, different researchers use different genres of video games, which makes this game-cognition-brain relationship even more complicated. Therefore, the aim of our study was not only to evaluate the three-way game-cognition-brain relationship, but also to assess this relationship for two different types of games.”

    Adults of varying ages were recruited for the study, but all had little to no previous game playing experience. Subjects underwent an MRI scan and then were asked to play two different games, one action game (Tank Attack 3D) and one strategy game (Sushi-Go-Round). To measure white matter integrity, researchers used fractional anisotropy (FA), obtained by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

    Working memory and inhibition predicted learning of both games, but better performance on the perceptual speed task was related only to the strategy game. The DTI results revealed key differences between the two genres of game: white matter FA in the right fornix/stria terminalis correlated with the action game learning and white matter FA in the left cingulum/hippocampus was related to the strategy game learning, even after controlling for age in both cases.

    “Although cognition, to a large extent, was a common predictor of both types of game learning, regional white matter FA could separately predict action and strategy game learning,” said Dr. Basak. “Given the neural and cognitive correlates of strategy game learning, strategy games may provide a more beneficial training tool for adults suffering from memory-related disorders or declines in processing speed.”

    While researchers found that playing strategy games better engaged memory and cognitive control brain regions, making them better suited for improving memory tasks, they hypothesize that action games that stimulate the limbic area and elicit more emotional arousal might be beneficial for other clinical populations like patients with mood disorders.

    Video games will continue to be the subject of scrutiny, both scientifically and societally, but investigators hope that this study opens the door to thinking about the nuances of different types of games. “Not all games are created equal, yet people generalize results from one video game to other video games,” concluded Dr. Basak. “Such oversimplification has serious consequences on research on video game training. I believe that we need to investigate the specific brain-cognition associations for different genres of video games before theorizing about the potential impact of a training on a particular genre of video game.”


  2. Study suggests video gamers have an advantage in learning

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ruhr-University Bochum press release:

    Neuropsychologists of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum let video gamers compete against non-gamers in a learning competition. During the test, the video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning. Prof Dr Boris Suchan, Sabrina Schenk and Robert Lech report their findings in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

    The weather prediction task

    The research team studied 17 volunteers who — according to their own statement — played action-based games on the computer or a console for more than 15 hours a week. The control group consisted of 17 volunteers who didn’t play video games on a regular basis. Both teams did the so-called weather prediction task, a well-established test to investigate the learning of probabilities. The researchers simultaneously recorded the brain activity of the participants via magnetic resonance imaging.

    The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.

    Video gamers better with high uncertainties

    The gamers were notably better in combining the cue cards with the weather predictions than the control group. They fared even better with cue card combinations that had a high uncertainty such as a combination that predicted 60 percent rain and 40 percent sunshine.

    The analysis of the questionnaire revealed that the gamers had acquired more knowledge about the meaning of the card combinations than the control group. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analysing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorise facts — especially in situations with high uncertainties,” says first author Sabrina Schenk.

    This kind of learning is linked to an increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a key role in learning and memory. “We think that playing video games trains certain brain regions like the hippocampus,” says Schenk. “That is not only important for young people, but also for older people; this is because changes in the hippocampus can lead to a decrease in memory performance. Maybe we can treat that with video games in the future.”


  3. Do video game players make the best unmanned pilots?

    September 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research from the University of Liverpool highlights the usefulness of Video Game Players (VGPs) as unmanned aircraft operators.

    The move to significant automation has been a feature of aviation over the last 40 years. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operations, commonly known as a aircraft which are unmanned, have outpaced current training regimes resulting in a shortage of qualified UAS pilots.

    In an effort to address this problem researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, led by Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, and the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering (Dr Mike Jump), explored the suitability of three potential UAS groups; VGPs, private pilots and professional pilots.

    The participants, 60 in total, all took part in a simulated civilian cargo flight to enable the researchers to assess their levels of accuracy, confidence and confidence-accuracy judgements (W-S C-A).

    The participants made 21 decision tasks, which varied across three levels of danger/ risk.

    As danger increased levels of confidence, accuracy and the relationship between how accurate the decision was and the level of confidence applied to those decisions decreased.

    The dangerousness of the decision also affected how confident participants were when choosing to intervene or rely on the automation; confidence was lower when the operator chose to intervene.

    Professional pilots and VGPs exhibited the highest level of decision confidence, with VGPs maintaining a constant and positive W-S C-A relationship across decision danger/risk.

    All groups showed higher levels of decision confidence in decisions controlled by the UAS in comparison to decisions where the operator manually intervened.

    Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, said: “Understanding which potential supervisory group has the best skills to make the best decisions can help to improve UAS supervision. Overall, video game players were less overconfident in their decision judgements.

    “The outcome supports the idea that this group could be a useful resource in UAS operation.”


  4. Study suggests video games can change your brain

    July 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Scientists have collected and summarized studies looking at how video games can shape our brains and behavior. Research to date suggests that playing video games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient. The researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

    Do you play video games? If so, you aren’t alone. Video games are becoming more common and are increasingly enjoyed by adults. The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016. Changing technology also means that more people are exposed to video games. Many committed gamers play on desktop computers or consoles, but a new breed of casual gamers has emerged, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments throughout the day, like their morning commute. So, we know that video games are an increasingly common form of entertainment, but do they have any effect on our brains and behavior?

    Over the years, the media have made various sensationalist claims about video games and their effect on our health and happiness. “Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” says Marc Palaus, first author on the review, recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    Palaus and his colleagues wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date concerning how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. They collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.

    The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform, and even their structure. For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks.

    There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program.

    Video games can also be addictive, and this kind of addiction is called “Internet gaming disorder.” Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.

    So, what do all these brain changes mean? “We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” says Palaus. As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how. “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” explains Palaus.


  5. Study examines skills transferable from World of Warcraft

    April 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Missouri University of Science and Technology press release:

    “Stop playing that stupid video game and get a job.”

    It’s a sentiment expressed by generations of parents since Pong began invading unsuspecting households in 1975. But what if that “stupid game” could help you get a job, and what if that same game could make you a valuable team member once you had the job?

    A new study by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology found that World of Warcraft (WoW) gamers who were successful working as a team in “raids” had qualities that psychological studies have shown to translate to success on virtual workplace teams.

    These qualities include what psychologists call the Big Five personality traitsextraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism, as well as computer-mediated communication skills and technology readiness.

    The research team came to its conclusion by surveying 288 WoW gamers from across the massive multiplayer online role-playing game’s (MMORPG) many servers. Those surveyed were diverse in age, race, sex, class, occupation and location.

    The average survey taker played WoW eight hours a week and worked 38 hours a week — important because the research team wanted survey takers that had full-time jobs that potentially involved teamwork. The survey consisted of 140 questions asking about motivation, communication skills, preferences for teamwork, and personality, with most questions relating to the Big Five personality traits.

    WoW is the world’s most-subscribed-to MMORPG, with over 10 million subscribers. After creating a character, players explore an almost limitless virtual landscape. They complete quests and fight monsters, all while interacting and working with characters controlled by other players — a key aspect to the S&T research study.

    The team surveyed 288 players of the game’s fifth expansion set, Warlords of Draenor. They compared players survey answers to their character’s statistics. A player’s group achievement points indicate how much group gameplay they’ve participated in, and how successful it has been, says Elizabeth Short, a graduate student in industrial-organizational psychology who compiled data for the study. Short’s research team is led by Dr. Nathan Weidner, assistant professor of psychological science at Missouri S&T.

    “What we wanted to look at was virtual teamwork and what kind of characteristics a person had in-game that would translate to real life and the workplace,” she says.

    Short called the correlations the research team found between a gamer’s WoW group achievements and player traits small but “statistically significant.” One of the strongest correlations the team found was in terms of technology readiness.

    The more technologically ready you are, the more resilient around technology you are, the more adaptable you are, the more achievement points you have (in WoW). You could flip that,” she says. “The more achievements you have in game, the more technology savvy you are in real life. And that’s a good thing, especially in virtual communication teams and workplaces.”

    Short says that growing up, she was naturally shy and introverted, but WoW built confidence and helped her “shed her armor.” Short’s social confidence grew, and by the time she started college, she was able to communicate better, all because of what she learned playing WoW.

    “I loved WoW and I played it constantly,” she says. “Then I started college, and being able to use some of the things I learned in WoW, like talking and communicating with people during raids, helped me socially in school.”

    Short hopes that through the study, more gamers will find that their WoW confidence can be converted into the real world and a career.

    “I like the idea that there are aspects of gaming that help and strengthen a person with skills, knowledge and abilities to be able to transfer those skills into the workplace,” she says. “If it helps students like me, I want to see if it helps people in the workplace.

    “This research shows us that those skills, while not exactly the same, they transfer,” she adds.

    Short will be presenting the research team’s findings at the 32ndannual Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference in Orlando at the end of April.


  6. Video games can influence sexist attitudes

    April 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Iowa State University press release:

    There are distinct similarities in the way women are portrayed in many popular video games. Female characters are typically attractive, scantily clad, appear in sexually suggestive ways and generally have limited roles.

    Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, says these images send a powerful message that can influence the underlying attitudes of gamers. According to a new study of more than 13,000 adolescents, Gentile and a team of French researchers found a link between video game exposure and sexism. The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

    “Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes. It was surprising to find a small but significant link between game play and sexism. Video games are not intended to teach sexist views, but most people don’t realize how attitudes can shift with practice,” Gentile said. “Nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realizing it.”

    Researchers did not look solely at video games, but also measured the influence of television and religion. Gentile was not surprised to find the relationship between religion and sexism was three times higher than video games. This is likely because many religions have historically taken a traditional view of gender roles, he said. TV was unrelated to sexism after controlling for religion. Gentile says this may be evidence of the growing number and variety of female character roles on TV compared to 20 years ago.

    Practice makes perfect

    Repeated exposure to media influences how we perceive and understand social realities, according to George Gerbner’s cultivation theory. Gentile says that influence increases with repeated exposure. The 13,520 adolescents, ages 11 to 19, surveyed for the study, spent approximately three hours a day watching TV and nearly two hours playing video games, on average.

    Researchers did not measure the level of sexist content in the games played. However, in the paper they cite previous studies that found more than 80 percent of female characters in video game magazines are portrayed as sexualized, scantily clad or a vision of beauty. More than a quarter of the characters fit all three categories.

    To measure sexism, researchers asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.” Participants who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree.

    “If you repeatedly ‘practice’ various decisions and choices in games, this practice can influence your attitudes and behaviors outside of the gaming world,” Gentile said.

    Gentile used the example of the game “Grand Theft Auto,” which gives players few options of how to interact with female characters — “you can pay them for sex, you can look at them or you can kill them,” Gentile said. “This is an extremely limited view of the value of women.”

    Findings true regardless of culture

    Researchers controlled for gender and socioeconomics. However, when analyzing the factors separately, sexism was higher among men with a lower socioeconomic status. Participants attended schools in Lyon and Grenoble, France — two cities in the second largest and wealthiest region of France.

    Although cultural differences often influence our attitudes, Gentile says the results are applicable across cultures because this study is focused on learned behaviors, not general cultural beliefs. How we learn and detect cues is the same regardless of culture, he said.

    The researchers say it’s important to understand that there are many things — religion, family, education, socioeconomic status — that influence sexist views. Gentile says video games are not the most important factor, and it is interesting that they are related to sexism at all.


  7. Playing to beat the blues

    March 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Davis press release:

    Video games and “brain training” applications are increasingly touted as an effective treatment for depression. A new UC Davis study carries it a step further, though, finding that when the video game users were messaged reminders, they played the game more often and in some cases increased the time spent playing.

    “Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts … mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option,” according to the study.

    The paper, authored by Subuhi Khan and Jorge Pena, professors in the Department of Communication at UC Davis, is forthcoming in Computers in Human Behavior.

    The messages, and subsequent games assigned, targeted depression that could be perceived as either internal — caused by a chemical imbalance or hereditary factor; or depression that could come from outside factors — such as a job or relationship situation. The messaging had slight differences in approach, but ended on basic inspirational notes to inspire the participant to play the game. Each message ended with: “Just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort.”

    Using six, three-minute games, the study found in most cases that playing the specifically designed game helped subjects feel they had some control over their depression. Each game was an adaptation of neurophysiological training tasks that have been shown to improve cognitive control among people experiencing depression.

    Portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app for brain training made participants feel that they could do something to control their depression. This supports other research that shows that brain-training games have the potential to induce cognitive changes, the authors said. Those users also gave high ratings for the usability of the app.

    On the other hand, portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the game — again, perhaps giving them a feeling of control over their situation. But researchers said this result was likely due to immediate engagement and was unlikely to have long-term benefits.

    The study did not examine whether playing the games actually reduced depression, although that will be looked at in future studies, the authors said.

    The study looked at results from 160 student volunteers who said they suffered from mild depression. They received class credit for participating. Three-fourths were women, and more than half of the subjects were of Asian heritage, followed by white, Latino, and other ethnicities. The average age was 21.


  8. An algorithm that knows when you’ll get bored with your favorite mobile game

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology press release:

    The video game industry has been shaken up by the emergence of smartphone games, aimed at users who are constantly connected to the Internet and change games very frequently.

    África Periáñez -Head of Game Data Science at the video game company Silicon Studio, in Tokyo- and her team have developed a mathematical model that predicts when a user will leave a specific mobile game. The results of their work were presented at the International Conference on Data Science and Advanced Analytics, held last October in Montreal (Canada).

    As Periáñez said, the algorithm they developed uses the so-called ‘ensemble’ method, “a model that is based on many learning algorithms instead of a single one, thereby improving the prediction accuracy by examining many more correlations and alternative models.”

    “Every time we run the model, we are actually using 1,000 distinct submodels,” she adds, “each of which focuses on different variables and has different initial conditions.”

    The team also used a survival analysis algorithm within each submodel. These models “are used in medical research, for example, to predict when a patient will experience an event of interest, and in biology, to know how particular cells are going to behave in the body,” she explains.

    Combination of mathematical models

    The Silicon Studio researchers have now, for the first time, combined the power of survival algorithms and ‘ensemble’ models in the field of video games. “This,” says Periáñez, “has enabled us to achieve a high level of prediction accuracy, as the algorithm automatically adapts to the data of the game we want to analyse.”

    Applied to videogames, the model (called a survival ensemble) can predict what day and at what stage of the game a user will stop playing, and why they will do so.

    “Already from their first days playing the game, we know with a good degree of certainty what level a user will reach and how many days it will take them. The main and most pressing priority is to try to extend the player’s ‘life’ and get them to buy as much as possible. Also important is to understand users’ needs and design a more entertaining and stimulating game,” says the researcher.

    The industry has undergone a paradigm shift since the appearance of games for smartphones. According to África Periáñez, “companies store a lot of information on users: their actions, connections, purchases, etc. And they are beginning to realise that they need to move towards a data-based development model, which allows them to know who their players are and what they like, and also to predict their reactions.”

    “Bigger companies are already taking steps in this direction, albeit slowly,” she explains, “but small and medium studios do not have as many resources. This is why we are offering our platform as a service, so that they can use it as a prediction tool.” The product was called 4Front as a code name and will be marketed under the trade name Yokozuna Data, inspired by the highest achievable rank in sumo wrestling.

    Automatic adaptation to different games and data

    The Silicon Studio platform adapts automatically to different games and data. “We are already working with Japanese and European firms, and have tested the product with several of our company’s games, such as Age of Ishtaria and GrandSphere,” notes Periáñez.

    According to the researcher, the system can predict who will leave the game very accurately. “Focusing on the players that spend the most money, known as ‘whales,’ we have managed to reduce churn by 5% using personalised push notifications. This alone has led to an increase of about 15% in sales,” she points out, concluding that “our goal is to become leaders in the international market and to democratise data science in the field of video games, an area where we are pioneers.”


  9. New studies illustrate how gamers get good

    March 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    We all know that practice makes us better at things, but scientists are still trying to understand what kinds of practice work best. A research team led by a Brown University computer scientist has found insights about how people improve their skills in a rather unlikely place: online video games.

    In a pair of studies reported in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science, researchers looked at data generated from thousands of online matches of two video games, the first-person shooter game Halo: Reach and the strategy game StarCraft 2. The Halo study revealed how different patterns of play resulted in different rates of skill development in players. The StarCraft study showed how elite players have unique and consistent rituals that appear to contribute to their success.

    “The great thing about game data is that it’s naturalistic, there’s a ton of it, and it’s really well measured,” said Jeff Huang, a computer science professor at Brown and the study’s lead author. “It gives us the opportunity to measure patterns for a long period of time over a lot of people in a way that you can’t really do in a lab.”

    Halo: Reach is a science fiction war game in which players battle with rifles, grenades and other weapons (part of a wildly popular series of Halo games). One of the most popular ways to play is known as Team Slayer, where online players from are placed together on teams for 10- to 15-minute matches to see which team can score the most kills against an opposing team. In order to arrange matches in which players have roughly similar skill levels, the game rates players using a metric called TrueSkill. TrueSkill ratings are constantly updated as players play more matches and their skill level changes, so they offered Huang and his colleagues the opportunity to see what kinds of playing habits influence a player’s skill acquisition.

    Huang and his colleagues looked at data generated by seven months of Halo matches — every online match played by the 3.2 million people who started playing the week the game was released in 2010.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research showed that people who played the most matches per week (more than 64) had the largest increase in skill over time. But playing lots of games wasn’t the most efficient way to improve skill. Looking at the data another way — in terms of which groups showed the most improvement per match rather an over time — showed markedly different results. That analysis showed that, over their first 200 matches, those who played four to eight matches week gained the most skill per match, followed by those who played eight to 16 matches.

    “What this suggests is that if you want to improve the most efficiently, it’s not about playing the most matches per week,” Huang said. “You actually want to space out your activity a little bit and not play so intensively.”

    But breaks in activity shouldn’t be too long. The researchers also looked specifically at how breaks in play affect a player’s skill. Short breaks — one or two days — were no big deal, the study found. Players gained back lost skill over the course of the next match they played. But longer breaks were shown to have longer-term effects. After a 30-day break, for example, players took around 10 matches to get back the skill level they had before the break.

    The lesson from the study, Huang says, seems to be that moderation is a good thing in terms of learning efficiency, as long as breaks in play aren’t too long.

    The second study focused on the strategy game StarCraft 2. Like other strategy games, StarCraft requires players to actively manage hundreds of game units at the same time. Players must build bases and other infrastructure, manage economies, train soldiers and direct them in combat. Looking at data from hundreds of StarCraft matches, the study compared the habits of elite players with those of lesser skill.

    The study showed that one major difference between more skilled and less skilled players was the effective use of “hotkeys” — customized keyboard shortcuts that enable commands to be given quickly to unit groups. Less skilled players used hotkeys less, opting instead to point and click commands to individual units with a mouse. But all elite players made copious use of hotkeys, using them to issue up to 200 actions per minute during a typical match.

    But the important thing wasn’t just the fact that elite players use the hotkeys more, it’s that they form unique and consistent habits in how they use them. Those habits were so unique and consistent, in fact, that the researchers were able to identify specific players with more than 90 percent accuracy just by looking at their hotkey patterns. It’s likely, the researchers say, that those habits become almost second nature, enabling players to keep cool and issue commands when the pressure of the game ratchets up.

    The study also showed that elite players seem to “warm up” their hotkey use. Even in the very early stages of a match, when there are fewer units in play and fewer things happening in the game, elite players still scrolled rapidly through their hotkeys, often issuing meaningless dummy commands to various units.

    “They’re getting their minds and bodies into the routines that they’ll need when they’re at peak performance later in the game,” Huang said. “They’re getting themselves warmed up.”

    Beyond simply learning about what makes gamers good, Huang hopes the work will shed light more generally on the ways in which people can optimize their performance in other domains. For instance, perhaps warming up like StarCraft players do would be helpful for people who have jobs that require paying attention to lots of different things at once.

    “Air traffic controllers come to mind,” Huang said. “Maybe when someone first gets in the seat, they should take a few moments and re-enact what they do until they can get warmed up and in the zone.”

    The results of the Halo study echo the findings of other cognitive science work, Huang says, in suggesting that moderate activity with short breaks could be a good thing.

    “People have seen this for other things, like studying,” Huang said. “Cramming is generally regarded as less efficient than doing smaller bits of studying throughout the semester. I think we’re seeing something similar here in our study.”

    Taken together, the researchers write, the message from these studies seems to be, “practice consistently, stay warm.”


  10. Video games can mitigate defensiveness resulting from bad test scores

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Texas Tech University press release:

    One of the worst feelings a student can have is receiving a bad grade on an exam, whether it’s a test they prepared well for or didn’t prepare at all. The prevalence of video games in today’s society helps mitigate some of the effects felt by students from those low test scores by reaffirming their abilities in another area they deem important.

    Video game players can get temporarily lost in alternative worlds, whether it’s transforming into the ultimate fighting machine or the greatest athlete on the planet. But no matter the game, the goal is to find a way to put the empty feeling of the bad test at school behind him by reaffirming his excellence in his favorite video game. It’s a scene that plays out all across the country, and one that has received criticism at times for placing too much emphasis on the game and not enough on schoolwork.

    But John Velez, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism & Electronic Media in the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication, says that may not always be the case. In fact, his research suggests those who value video game success as part of their identity and received positive feedback on their video game play were more willing to accept the bad test score and consider the implications of it, something that is crucial for taking steps to change study habits and ensure they do better on future exams.

    Conversely, those who do not value success in video games but received positive video game feedback were actually more defensive to having performed poorly on a test. They were more likely to discredit the test and engage in self-protective behaviors. Regardless, the results seem to throw a wrench into the theory that video games and schoolwork are detrimental to each other.

    The key, however, is making sure those playing video games after a bad test are not doing it just as an escape, but making sure after playing video games they understand why they did badly on the test and what they need to do to perform better on the next one.

    “People always kind of talk about video-game play and schoolwork in a negative light,” Velez said. “They talk about how playing video games in general can take away from academic achievement. But for me and a lot of gamers, it’s just a part of life and we use it a lot of times to help get through the day and be more successful versus gaming to get away from life.

    “What I wanted to look into was, for people who identify as a gamer and identify as being good at games, how they can use playing video games after something like a bad exam to help deal with the implications of a bad exam, which makes it more likely they will think about the implications and accept the idea that, ‘OK, I didn’t do well on this exam and I need to do better next time.'”

    Negative results, positive affirmation Velez said past research suggests receiving negative feedback regarding a valued self-image brings about a defensive mechanism where people discredit or dismiss the source of the information. Conversely, the Self-Affirmation Theory says that affirming or bolstering an important self-image that is not related to the negative feedback can effectively reduce defensiveness.

    “If you’re in a bad mood, you can play a good game and get into a good mood,” Velez said. “But I wanted to go deeper and think about how there are times when you are in a bad mood but you are in a bad mood for a very specific reason. Just kind of ignoring it and doing something to get into a good mood can be bad. It would be bad if you go home and play a video game to forget about it and the next time not prepare better for the test or not think about the last time you did badly on a test.”

    For the research, Velez was interested in two types of people — those who identify as placing importance on good video game play and those who do not. How good they were at playing the game was not a factor, just that they identified as it being important to their identity or not.

    Participants in the research were administered a survey to assess their motivations for video-game play and the importance of video games to their identity. They were then given an intelligence test and were told the test was a strong measure of intelligence. Upon completing the test, participants were given either negative feedback on their performance or no feedback at all.

    That negative feedback naturally produces an amount of defensiveness for anyone regarding their performance, regardless of the importance they put on being successful at video games.

    Participants then played a generic shooting video game for 15 minutes that randomly provided positive or no feedback to the player, and players were told the game was an adequate test of their video-game playing skills. Participants then completed an online survey containing ratings of the intelligence test and self-ratings on intelligence.

    What Velez discovered was those who place importance on being successful at video games were less likely to be defensive about the poor performance on the intelligence test.

    “Defensiveness is really a bad thing a lot of times,” Velez said. “It doesn’t allow you to think about the situation and think about what you should have done differently. A lot of times people use it to protect themselves and ignore it or move on, which makes it likely the same thing is going to happen over and over again.”

    It’s the second discovery that Velez didn’t expect, the result where those who performed badly on the intelligence exam and don’t identify as video game players became even more defensive about their intelligence exam result. Instead, they were more likely to use the positive video game feedback as further evidence they are intelligent and the test is flawed or doesn’t represent their true intelligence.

    “That was like this double-edged sword that I didn’t realize I was going to find,” Velez said. “It was definitely unexpected, but once you think about it theoretically, it intuitively makes sense. After receiving negative information about yourself you instinctively start looking for a way to make yourself feel better and you usually take advantage of any opportunities in your immediate environment.”

    Changing behavior A common punishment administered by parents for inappropriate behavior or poor performance in school has been to take away things the child enjoys, such as television, the use of the car, or their video games.

    One might infer from this research that taking video games from the child might actually be doing them harm by not allowing them to utilize the tool that makes them feel better or gives them an avenue to understand why they performed poorly in school and how they must do better.

    Velez, however, said that’s not necessarily the case.

    “I don’t think parents should change their practices until more research is conducted, particularly looking at younger players and their parents’ unique parenting styles,” Velez said. “The study simply introduces the idea that some people may benefit from some game play in which they perform well, which may make it easier for them to discuss and strategize for the future so they don’t run into this problem again after playing.”

    Velez said the study also introduces specific stipulations about when the benefits of video-game play occur and when it may actually backfire.

    “If parents know their child truly takes pride in their video-game skills, then their child may benefit from doing well in their favorite game before addressing the negative test grade,” Velez said. “However, there’s the strong possibility that a child is using the video game as a way to avoid the implications of a bad test grade, so I wouldn’t suggest parents change how they parent their children until we’re able to do more research.”

    Therein lies the fine line, because the study also suggests receiving positive feedback on video games doesn’t necessarily translate into a better performance on a future exam. Velez said the common idea is that defensiveness prevents people from learning and adapting from the feedback they received. Those who are less defensive about negative self-information are more likely to consider the causes and precursors of the negative event, making it more likely a change in behavior will occur. But this was not a focus of this particular study and will have to be examined further.

    Velez said he would also like to identify other characteristics of video-game players who are more likely to benefit from this process compared to increased negative defensive reaction. This could be used to help identify a coping strategy or lead to further research about parenting strategies for discussing sensitive subjects with children.

    “What I want to get out of this research is, for people who care about gaming as part of their identity, how they can use video games in a positive way when dealing with negative things in life,” Velez said.