Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Xbox is Good for You

It's always been an accepted "fact" that men are better at spacial tasks than women are. Jokes about women being unable to read maps, or the superiority of men in throwing and catching balls have been trotted out as evidence that men and woman have some sort of difference in ability.

Usually, this difference is attributed to culture -- women don't participate in sports or other tasks that require spatial reasoning very often, so they aren't as good at it. Recently, biology has been touted as the reason that women and men differ. Much research has gone into finding out just how men and women are different biologically. And yet, a recent study in Toronto has shown rather vividly that this sort of skill can be influenced by behavior.

How did they do this? Video games. First, they tested volunteers on a visual identification game. Volunteers were tested on identifying the "odd" object in a display (kind of like the 'one of these things just doesn't belong here' game from Sesame street). Women were right 55% of the time, men 68%. Then, they had some of their volunteers play Medal of Honor (a first-person shooter war game) and others play a non-action game called Balance.

Both sets were then asked to do the odd-man-out test again.
Among the Ballancers, there was no change in the ability to pick out the unusual. Among those who had played “Medal of Honour”, both sexes improved their performances.

That is not surprising, given the different natures of the games. However, the improvement in the women was greater than the improvement in the men—so much so that there was no longer a significant difference between the two. Moreover, that absence of difference was long-lived. When the volunteers were tested again after five months, both the improvement and the lack of difference between the sexes remained. Though it is too early to be sure, it looks likely that the change in spatial acuity—and the abolition of any sex difference in that acuity—induced by playing “Medal of Honour” is permanent.
Video games really DO have a positive effect and don't actually rot the brain. Who'd a thunk it?

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