#BTYSTE: Are video games the answer to improving your reflexes?

One project from Cork looked to examine a possible connection between improved dexterity and game play

Just how quick off the mark are you? Are you the kind of person that effortlessly ducks at the sign of a falling object, or the one lying dazed on the ground with a possible concussion?

Our reflexes are involuntary actions that our bodies make in response to something - for example, you don't think about blinking, you tend to just do it.

But how is our constant scrolling, clicking and game-playing affect these reflexes and people's general dexterity? Statistics from Dublin-based research firm Statcounter show that Ireland has the highest penetration of phone internet users anywhere in Europe, North America or South America.

On top of that, the most recent figures on Irish sales of video games went up an estimated 11% in 2014, with an estimated spend put at €206m.
 
The figures, produced by independent games industry researcher Jamie McCormick, highlight the ongoing appetite for games amongs Irish consumers and, at an estimated €43m VAT, the importance to the Government's coffers.

As part of their project for the BT Young Scientist Exhibition, St Mary's High School in Midleton, Cork looked to establish a link between extensive game-play and improved dexterity and reflexes.

L-R: Students Karynn Collins, Emma Cosgrave and Megan Murphy with teacher Niamh Jones at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

Led by physics and biology teacher Niamh Jones, students Emma Cosgrave, Karynn Collins and Megan Murphy tested the dexterity and reflexes of four subjects of the same age. Subjects played two different video games - Mario Kart on the Xbox and Zig Zag on the iPad - for 30 minutes a week for five weeks. 

At the end of the trial, the test subjects had their dexterity and reflexes retested. 

How do you test dexterity and reflexes?

The students used the Purdue Pegboard Test - a neuro-psychological test of manual dexterity and bi-manual coordination. The test involves two different abilities: gross movements of arms, hands, and fingers, and fine motor extremity, also called "fingerprint"dexterity. 

The pegboard consists of a board with ten parallel rows with ten holes into which cylindrical metal pegs are placed by the subject or subjects. The test involves a total of four trials, with subjects then having to place the pins in the holes as quickly as possible, with the score being the number of pins placed in 30 seconds.

For reflexes, students used the ruler test -  tactile, visual and auditory response was recorded as subjects attempted to catch a ruler as quickly as possible.

Results

Generally, the subjects' dexterity improved, with no subject's dexterity disimproving. Levels of dexterity improved 14.79% after playing half an hour of video games per week.

The subjects' overall level of dexterity improved 12.83% after playing video games for the give weeks.

Similar studies

A paper published in 2008 showed Fordham University psychologists examining 122 children's problem-solving behavior while playing a video game that they had never seen before to show that playing video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills.

As the children played the game, they were asked to think aloud for 20 minutes. Researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by examining the types of cognitive, goal-oriented, game-oriented, emotional and contextual statements they made.

"Younger children seem more interested in setting short-term goals for their learning in the game compared to older children who are more interested in simply playing and the actions of playing," said Blumberg. "Thus, younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games."

In a second paper, Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile, PhD, and William Stone, BS, described several studies involving high school and college students and laparoscopic surgeons that looked at their video game usage and its effects.

Another study of 303 laparoscopic surgeons (82 percent men; 18 percent women) also showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not the play video games first.

"The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are played, the content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen, and how you control the motions," said Gentile. "This means that games are not ‘good' or ‘bad,' but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could."