Picking out features in a crowd

25 March 2013
Posted by David Weston.

PhD Students, David Weston from Cambridge University describes his top papers of the month!

David - The first paper this week ties into the podcast's theme of navigation. Researchers from the University of Toronto have just published evidence that playing action-based video games can improve your ability to navigate your environment, specifically your ability to pick out features in a crowd.

Sijing Wu and Ian Spence, in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics showed that people who played action games such as Call of Duty, Counter Stroke and Halo, so called First-Person-Shooter or FPS players, for at least 4 hours a week in the previous six months were much faster at finding specific objects in a typical visual search task. The FPS players were also more accurate at identifying objects in their peripheral vision when taking on tasks in their central vision.

These results collectively suggested that FPS players are better at searching visual scenes and splitting their attention across their visual field. These experiments used self-confessed action video game players but what the authors of the paper really wanted to know, was whether their abilities were trainable, ie. Can playing video games make a non-player better at these tasks?

A group of 60 students, who didn't have any experience with video games were split into groups and given different video games to play: two groups were given action video games and a third group was given a 3D puzzle game. All of the participants were asked to play the video games for 10 hours, as part of their training.

The results showed that even after only 10 hours of training the Kings Cross Station crowd controlparticipants who played the two action games showed remarkable improvements in their visual search abilities, compared to those given the puzzle game. Although these experiments may seem trivial the investigators highlighted the importance of these findings. We use searching behaviours in many critical aspects of life from looking for a face in a crowd to poring over complex MRI scans. Using video games may be a great way to train people's visual searching skills! Sounds like a fun way to train to me!

Wu & Spence. Playing shooter and driving videogames improves top-down guidance in visual search. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, March 2013.

http - //link.springer.com/article/10.3758%2Fs13414-013-0440-2

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