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C. Shawn Green, Daphne Bavelier; Does action video game play really enhance the number of items that can be simultaneously attended?. Journal of Vision 2004;4(8):632. doi: 10.1167/4.8.632.
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We have recently demonstrated that action video game play enhances subjects' accuracy when determining the number of items in a briefly flashed display (Green and Bavelier, 2003). Results from this variant of the subitizing task (Kaufman et al, 1948) suggest an increase in the number of items that can be simultaneously attended in action game players. However, because accuracy, rather than reaction time was taken as the primary measure of the subitizing range, highly accurate counting, rather than true subitizing could be at the root of the effect. At stake is the issue of whether video game play improves subitizing ability per se or rather some stages of sensory memory. To test this hypothesis, the subitizing range of avid video game players (VGPs) and non-video game players (NVGPs) was tested. Subjects were asked to say aloud as fast as possible the number of small white squares (1–12) that were presented centrally and followed by a pattern mask. The accuracy data replicated previous results: VGPs switched from subitizing to counting (accuracy begins to fall off) at around 5 items, whereas NVGPs switched between 2 and 3 items. However, as measured by reaction time, the switch (reaction time begins to increase) occurred at around 3 items for both groups. This indicates that VGPs possess, not a greater subitizing range, but instead a more stable sensory representation of the display that facilitates counting ability. To more directly evaluate the claim that video game play increases the number of items that can be attended at once, a ball-tracking paradigm was employed (Pylyshyn and Storm, 1988). This paradigm was chosen because, unlike the subitizing task, it requires continuous dynamical allocation of attention to several items over time. VGPs were able to successfully track five moving dots whereas NVGPs could accurately track only three. This experiment unambiguously establishes that video game play allows a greater number of items to be indexed and tracked.
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