Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the June 11, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Video Games: Psychic Value?
Video game training can be used to improve a person’s
visual attention, according to just published research from the
University of Rochester, and a biofeedback expert in Princeton
he has been using similar game training for more than 20 years.
The conclusions of researchers C. Shawn Green & Daphne Bavelier were
published in a May 29 letter to the journal Nature: "Although
video game playing may seem to be rather mindless," they wrote,
"it is capable of radically altering visual attentional
Bavelier and Green found that habitues of video games could monitor
complex visual information more easily than non-game players, but
novices with just 10 hours of training could improve their visual
Among the intriguing possibilities of the Rochester study: Because
those with video game training score high on identifying objects in
their peripheral vision, the training might improve the skills of
elderly drivers. Because gamers can more rapidly process visual
information, video games might help those with neurological visual
Games might even be a cost-effective way to train the brains of stroke
patients to be more attentive.
This idea of using video games to train brains is nothing new to Les
Fehmi, a psychologist and neurotherapist who pioneered a method of
biofeedback training that he calls Open Focus. An alumnus of San Jose
State with a PhD from UCLA, Fehmi established his Princeton
Biofeedback Center on Mount Lucas Road in 1973. He and his partner,
use biofeedback to control pain, treat everything from migraine
hypertension, and other stress related disorders, and to deal with
attention deficit disorders. Like many biofeedback practitioners,
they measure the brainwaves that patients produce. The patients
the patterns as a series of beeps and watch their brainwaves
a video game. How fast the PacMan can gobble dots and negotiate a
maze depends on the amplitude and intensity of the player’s brain
Players with ferocious intensity find they do poorly because they
are not producing the desired brain waves. Those who don’t pay
who are lackadaisical, also don’t do well in Fehmi’s games. Those
who do well show "relaxed alert attention" that
produces the brain waves associated with this kind of attention.
— but not anxiously — they survey the overall situation and
then attend to necessary details. "With this feedback, the
of the game learns to control nervous function and other functions
of the body in various situations," says Fehmi.
Fehmi and the University of Rochester researchers concur on the power
of video games as a training tool. "I absolutely agree with the
premise that when video games operate in response to brainwave
changes, it is possible to change brain waves for the better. Many
symptoms respond to this," says Fehmi. He has had particular
success in using this method to treat attention deficit disorders.
"Clients learn to look at the overall situation as well as the
minute details," says Fehmi. "They learn they have options
to try out various patterns and see which ones work the best, whereas
a child who didn’t have this kind of training might be stuck in an
attentional rut and wouldn’t necessarily seek to get out."
"I think we are entering into a new era where feedback and neuro
feedback can add a lot to the optimization of function across a range
of problems and situations, including in sports," says Fehmi.
"Some children say that when they learn to look at the overall
situation, as well as the details, their sports activities
Fehmi is only too well aware of the potential dangers of video games.
Children who are able to dissolve anxiety as it happens can play the
very exciting games yet remain both relaxed and interested. The same
game might cause stress-related symptoms in a more vulnerable child
who is not able to diffuse his excitement.
Most often it’s the feedback, not the game itself, that produces
good results. "When there is no feedback, video games could be
deleterious for kids who are already too hyper and too stressed. For
kids playing very active games and getting deeply involved in a narrow
focus, video games could do them long term harm because everything
else could seem boring," says Fehmi.
This warning holds true for most children, but not all. "Attention
Deficit Disorders cause some to day dream and wander off," says
Fehmi. "For these kids, video games — even without the
— might help to sharpen and sustain their focus."
— Barbara Fox
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