I love sharing information like this with you. It irks me when I see all of the lofty promises from companies (that shall remain unnamed, but they advertise so much online that I am sure you know who I am referring to) that their brain training will make you smarter, and solve all of your memory limitations, and turn your kids into the next Einstein. I have shared before the results of studies that show how limited transfer of training is when it comes to cognitive processes. If you practice your working memory span, you can indeed increase your working memory span. But it doesn’t improve anything else, and if you stop practicing you lose the benefits.
So here is the new finding that I am eager to share. A team of researchers from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan wanted to know if playing car racing video games can make players better drivers. After all, this is a direct link. Practice driving should lead to better driving, right? Especially when they used a virtual reality driving game that had good ecological validity.
One recent study found that older adults could significantly improve their ability to multi-task after playing a specially designed driving video game called NeuroRacer. Another study from researchers at the University of Rochester found that playing action-packed video games improved people’s ability to make quick decisions and ignore distractions.
What this research was interested in most was visual search. To be a good driver you need to maintain situation awareness of your surroundings. You need to check your mirrors, notice signs, and be aware when there are vehicles in your blind spot. This is not all that you need, but it is important. But in a driving video game, players don’t do this. So when they transferred them to real driving, they showed no increase in situation awareness. Experienced driving gamers did not visually explore their environment any more than non-players. Experience driving for real increased this, but not experience driving in games.
What this shows is that the benefits of training is really specific. If the video game doesn’t get you to look at your mirrors or be aware of your blind spot, then the fact that you might develop better steering control does not transfer to visual exploration.
Even if you were willing to consider the possibility that better steering control would free up cognitive resources that could then be used to maintain visual situation awareness, this study shows that it is not the case. Just having some spare capacity doesn’t do it. You need the training to force the trainee to engage in the visual exploration. Otherwise, there is no benefit.
Do you play any driving games? Does it seem like you improve your real-world driving skills? Would you have guessed that it would have some kind of transfer benefit? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Nemo