Jing Feng, Ian Spence, Jay Pratt.
This study from 2010 showed that playing an FPS improves your spatial abilities (example: mentally rotating a shape). Even more interesting: women, who have lower spatial skills on average than men, actually caught up to men’s levels in spatial cognition after playing an FPS for just 10 hours, and their skills remained high for months, even if they stopped playing.
Here’s how Feng and colleagues proved it: in the first part of their study, they simply looked for differences in spatial skills between gamers and non-gamers, and between men and women. They tested participants on a task called Uniform Field of View (“UFOV”, see Figure 1a) because it gives a good indication of spatial abilities:
“This well-established paradigm assesses the ability to detect, localize,and identify a target.”
Here’s what they found: gamers had 19% more correct responses on the UFOV task than non-gamers, and men performed 7% higher on average than women.
“This experiment demonstrates—for the first time—a gender difference in spatial selective attention.”
In the second part of the experiment, they wanted to check that playing an FPS (in this case Medal of Honor:Paciﬁc Assault) can actually improve your spatial skills. They tested participants before and after FPS training to see if their spatial abilities had changed. Once again, they tested people’s spatial skills using the UFOV task as before, and they also used a new, more complicated Mental Rotation Test (“MRT”, see Figure 1b).
The results are summarized in Figure 2: participants were significantly better in both of the spatial-skills tests after playing an FPS video game for a total of 10 hours. They also showed a larger improvement for women than for men in both tasks (that’s where we see women catching up to men in spatial skills), and both genders retained very high scores on both tasks even 5 months later.
“Playing an action video game can differentially enhance males’ and females’ performance on spatial tasks: Females showed larger improvements than males, such that prior gender differences were virtually eliminated (UFOV task) or reduced (MRT). Both males and females (with no prior video-gaming experience) in Experiment 2 either reached or closely approached the average UFOV performance of players in Experiment 1, and follow-up testing suggests that these gains were persistent. This finding is remarkable and implies that the underlying processes in the brain are qualitatively different from those in more typical cases of skill acquisition through practice—generally these show decay if there is no continued practice to maintain the level of skill.”
Abstract (author summary):
“We demonstrate a previously unknown gender difference in the distribution of spatial attention, a basic capacity that supports higher-level spatial cognition. More remarkably, we found that playing an action video game can virtually eliminate this gender difference in spatial attention and simultaneously decrease the gender disparity in mental rotation ability, a higher-level process in spatial cognition. After only 10 hr of training with an action video game, subjects realized substantial gains in both spatial attention and mental rotation, with women benefiting more than men. Control subjects who played a non-action game showed no improvement. Given that superior spatial skills are important in the mathematical and engineering sciences, these findings have practical implications for attracting men and women to these fields.”
Link to the original article: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228091955_Video_Games_and_Spatial_Cognition
Spence, Ian & Feng, Jing. (2010). Video Games and Spatial Cognition. Review of General Psychology. 14. 92-104. 10.1037/a0019491.