New research adds to a mounting body of evidence that hours spent playing action video games can boost visual skills.

Previous studies have found that playing action video games like Call of Duty and BioShock Infinite helps gamers detect minute changes in visual contrast and motion, track multiple objects more efficiently, and process visual information more quickly.

The new study, published by researchers at Duke University in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, finds that gamers also develop increased visual sensitivity, allowing them to react more quickly to stimuli in their field of vision.

"Gamers see the world differently," said lead author Greg Appelbaum. "They are able to extract more information from a visual scene."

The more immersed they are in the self-contained world of a video game, the better gamers become at quickly making "probabilistic inferences" about what certain visual indicators might lead to, even with limited information.

Testing Visual Skills Among Video Gamers

The paper was based on 125 participants who were around 21 years old, all of whom were part of a much larger research study in the Duke University Visual Cognition Lab.

The participants completed questionnaires about their video game habits and preferences, which allowed researchers to classify them on a scale from non-video game player or intensive action video game player.

All the participants were put through a computerized visual sensory memory task, in which eight black uppercase letters in a circular arrangement flashed on a gray background for only 105 milliseconds, about one-tenth of a second.

After a variable delay of anywhere from 13 milliseconds to 2.56 seconds, a red line appeared pointing at the former location of one of the eight letter locations, remaining visible until the participant reported which letter had been in the cued location.

The results showed that the participants who played action video games most intensely performed much better on the task than those who rarely played video games.

While both groups were apt to forget what the letters had been as time passed, video gamers were consistently more likely to remember than non-gamers. There seemed to be no difference between genders — female and male video gamers both showed better visual sensitivity than non-gamers.

Video Gamers Have Advanced Visual Sensitivity

Appelbaum explains that visual memory tends to decay rapidly. The brain quickly sorts what is and is not important in the visual field, and discards whatever it deems is not necessary to retain.

While intensive gamers get rid of unused visual information at a similar rate as non-gamers, they seem to have a higher capacity for visual information from the beginning.

Based on the results of the study, Appelbaum believes that "it is possible that the gamers see more immediately, and they are better able make better correct decisions from the information they have available."

In future studies, Appelbaum suggests that researchers might be able to identify specific brain regions that function differently between the two groups using data from MRI brain scans.

Source: Appelbaum LG, Cain M, Darling E, Mitroff S. Action video game playing is associated with improved visual sensitivity, but not alterations in visual sensory memory. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics. 2013.