18/07/2016 15:52 BST

Playing An Action Video Game Could Make You A Better Driver

You can improve your visuomotor-control skills with just five hours' gaming

Regis Duvignau / Reuters

Gaming for as little as five hours is a cost-effective way of improving a driver’s ability to coordinate visual information with their motor control, a new study shows.

Researchers at New York University Shanghai found that participants tasked with using a driving simulator were far more competent if they had experience playing action-based games.

Faced with strong crosswinds in the simulator, veteran gamers were more likely to stay in their lanes.

By comparison, gamers with negligible gaming experience posed a greater threat to nearby drivers as they came into headwinds.

A second test requiring participants to keep a target dot in the centre of the screen revealed similar results.

After early tests, scientists recruited a group of participants with no video gaming experience to undergo a series of video game practice sessions.

Mario Kart, YouTube.

The action gaming group were assigned 10 1-hour sessions playing Mario Kart using a steering-wheel controller, while the control group played Roller Coaster Tycoon III, a non-action strategy game, over the same period.

The two games were included comparably complex visual scenes and took a similar period of time to learn. Both groups were also equally engaged in the game and showed similar improvement over time.

After just five hours of training, participants who trained using Mario Kart, a fast-paced action video game, were notably better at the target dot task. After 10 training sessions, they were even better still. Participants in the control group, meanwhile, showed no such improvement. 

But the visuomotor benefits are not confined to driving games. In a separate study, the researchers tasked participants with playing the first-person-shooter game Unreal Tournament. They too showed improved visuomotor control.

In fact, the two action-based games, Mario Kart and Unreal Tournament, had a different impact on visuomotor control. Researchers suggested therefore that different games would suit drivers of different aptitudes.

Li Li, the lead author of the study at New York University Shanghai said:

“The differing effects of driving and FPS video games on the sensorimotor system suggest that for experienced drivers, who have stable control but need to improve their ability to predict input error signals, training with FPS rather than driving video games is more effective.

“In contrast, for novice drivers, who are still struggling with obtaining stable control, training with driving rather than FPS video games is more helpful.”

Li added that gaming for as little as five hours could be a cost-effective means to helping visuomotor-control skills essential to being a capable driver.

The research was published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.