Shooter video games improve mental flexibility

Unreal Tournament. The active role played by the gamer is a feature of these games.

Unreal Tournament. The active role played by the gamer is a feature of these games.

Researchers led by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato have discovered that fanatical games players who play a lot of so-called shooter games have a higher degree of mental flexibility Their research has been published in Frontiers in Cognition.


Broad interest

Over the past decade the games industry has undergone major developments, as have the players themselves. The technical possibilities are endless and the number of games enormous. The games are played by people of all ages and in every stratum of society. Naturally, this has attracted the interest of scientists, who in many cases focus on the influence of video games - particularly violent games - and on our behaviour. 

Negative and positive effects

Scene from the controversial game Grand Theft Auto IV. The gamer himselfs acts as the game's main protagonist, Niko. He is given contracts to kill that are presented very realistically. The possibilities include letting someone fall from a window or executing them.

Scene from the controversial game Grand Theft Auto IV. The gamer himselfs acts as the game's main protagonist, Niko. He is given contracts to kill that are presented very realistically. The possibilities include letting someone fall from a window or executing them.

Politicians and the mainstream media are particularly concerned about the negative effects on social behaviour and addiction. Their concerns are fed by all-too-frequent shooting incidents at American high schools - and recently in Germany, too - where the offenders were described as fanatical games players of first person shooter games (FPS). These are games where the player - as the main protagonist - shoots his way through a game. Compared with the amount of attention paid to this possibly negative effect, very little research has been carried out into the possibly positive effects of gaming on cognitive functions and abilities.  


Increased mental flexibility

As part of their research published on 21 April 2010 in the open-access journal ‘Frontiers in Cognition’, researchers from Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam, headed by Lorenza Colzato, have studied the subject of mental flexibility. They showed that players of popular FPS games (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Unreal Tournament, Battlefield and the controversial Grand Theft Auto IV) demonstrate greater mental flexibility; they out-performed non-gamers.

Socially relevant

This research is the first of its kind to test the mental flexibility of individuals who are used to playing FPS games. It could be socially relevant to further this research into the functional aspects of gaming experience, such as regulating behaviour, for example in normal ageing. Training older people using video games could be a successful strategy for compensating for the decline in cognitive functions, including the ability to adapt to circumstances. This is an essential skill for almost every functional activity.
DOOM'd to switch: superior cognitive flexibility in players of first person shooter games, Frontiers in cognition, 21 April 2010.

Last Modified: 29-04-2010