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Forget carrots, just play video games

March 29, 2009 | 10:00 am

Here's some evidence that video games may be good for you after all.

People who played 50 hours of action video games showed significant improvement in contrast sensitivity function, a key aspect of vision, according to a study published online today in Nature Neuroscience.

Callofduty Contrast sensitivity function refers to the ability to detect small differences in shades of gray, and it is one of the most vulnerable elements of vision. Scientists believe it is affected by deterioration of the eye itself.

But a team of researchers from University of Rochester and Tel Aviv University suspected that changes in the brain played a role as well. If so, they reasoned, mental exercise could offer some improvement.

To find out, they recruited video game novices in their 20s and asked some of them to play Atari’s Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2 by Infinity Ward, two fast-paced games that require players to aim and shoot weapons from a variety of battle vehicles. Others were assigned to The Sims 2 from Electronic Arts, an elaborate simulation game that doesn’t ask players to make any quick or visually precise moves. Participants were asked to play their games for a total of 50 hours over nine weeks.

The researchers measured each player’s contrast sensitivity function before and after their training and found that people assigned to the shoot-'em-up games improved by an average of 58%. Those who played the Sims improved too, but not as much as those who played the action games, according to the study. The benefits lasted for months and even years.

“The very act of action video game playing also enhanced contrast sensitivity,” the authors wrote. “More generally, our results establish that time spent in front of a computer screen is not necessarily detrimental to vision.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: A scene from "Call of Duty 2." Credit: Activision