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`Call of Duty' Video Game Trains Brains for Snappy Decisions

Playing action video games primes the brain to make quick decisions and could be incorporated into training programs for surgeons or soldiers, a study found.

The researchers tested 18- to 25-year-olds who weren’t regular video-game players. One group spent 50 hours playing the “The Sims 2,” a slow-paced strategy game published by Electronic Arts Inc. The other group took on “Call of Duty 2,” a combat game sold by Activision Blizzard Inc., or “Unreal Tournament,” a shooter game developed by Epic Games. The subjects then performed timed computer tasks, according to the report published today in the journal Current Biology.

In the problem-solving exercise, the action-game players made decisions 25 percent faster than the strategy group, while answering the same number of questions correctly. The findings suggest that games simulating stressful events or battles could be a training tool for speeding reactions in real-world situations, according to researchers at the University of Rochester in New York led by Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive scientist.

“It’s not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster,” Bavelier said in a statement. “Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.”

The experiment builds on previous research by Bavelier showing that video-game players surveying a scene gather more-detailed visual information than non-gamers. The brain constantly uses sensory information to calculate probabilities. Action gamers collect visual and auditory data more efficiently than non-gamers, arriving at decisions faster, the authors said.

As a result, playing fast-paced video games may improve everyday skills such as driving, tracking friends in a crowd and reading small print, the scientists concluded.

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