Essay: Controversy of Videogames and Attention

Attention is a cognitive behavioral process in which people concentrate on a discrete aspect of sensory input selectively and ignore other perceivable information that is subjectively or objectively regarded as unrelated or distracting (Anderson, 2004). This process involves allocation of limited mental resources for target detection and distraction suppression.
There has been a hot debate concerning effects of videogames on attention since 20th century with the wide-spread of videogames. In the source article, it is concluded with a Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) experiment that young adult action videogame players outperformed non-videogame players in an attention-demanding task. The group of 21 videogame players displayed behavioral advantages in target detection with higher speed and accuracy, higher ability in suppressing distraction, and a larger P300 peak to make accurate discrimination and perceptual decisions under high load condition with more confidence (Mishra, Zinni, Bavelier, & Hillyard, 2011).
Nevertheless, having a relatively small sample size of 41 young adult subjects (average age: 22.5), with no specification and manipulation on the nature of videogames played by subjects in daily life, generalizability of such result is questionable. When discussing effects of videogame playing on attention, differential effects of videogames with different natures and players’ age should also be considered.
Nature and Differential Effects of Videogames on Players
Nowadays, there are various types of videogames available in the market, including casual games with easy-to-understand rules (e.g. Tetris, Mario Brothers), simulation games (e.g. Microsoft Flight Simulator), educational games (e.g. Imagine Cup), action games and role-playing games (RPG) (e.g. Dragon Ball), etc. Different natures of videogames have differential effects on players’ attention.
Casual, simulation and educational games (Type A videogames) with slower pace, carefully designed and interactive contents could improve players’ executive functioning, such as working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning and execution (The White House, n.d.; The White House, 2009). These videogames are less likely to cause attention problems (Swing, Gentile, Anderson, & Walsh, 2010).
Action and RPG games (Type B videogames) provide high level of multi-sensory stimulation and excitement. They require players to change focus rapidly when reacting to real-time stimuli, enhancing players’ hand-eye coordination, attention in terms of target detection, and response rate (Swing et al., 2010). This rapid change in focus is susceptible to development of attention problems.
Differential Effects on Players of Different Ages
Beneficial Effects
Real-time interactive, sensational stimulation and excitement provided by Type A videogames are attractive. Strategic use of such videogames in education settings provides an easy way to engage students in participating interactive training for enhancing sensory integration, hand function, hand-eye coordination, attention, and executive functioning. Type B videogames allow students to enjoy experiential learning through interpretation of different characters and settings/scenarios. Thus, learning of social and historical factors is facilitated (Batista & Vaz de Carvalho, 2008).
As for adults and elderly, both types of videogames could serve as a handy and interesting means for cognitive control enhancement (Anguera, Boccanfuso, Rintoul, Al-Hashimi, Faraji, Janowich, & Gazzaley, 2013). Moreover, physiotherapist and occupational therapist often use these videogames to train up different skills in various types of patients (Burdea, 2003; Griffiths, 2005a; Griffiths, 2005b).
Adverse Effects
Type B videogames has a positive correlation with attention problems that are often manifested in the form of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), in which people’s abilities to sustain focus on tasks that are not inherently attention-grabbing is attenuated (Anderson, Levin, & Lorch, 1977), making it difficult for them to pay attention to less stimulating and exciting task (e.g. reading, school work), resulting in poorer school or work performance (Swing et al., 2010).
In a longitudinal research on videogames exposure and development of attention problems, these attention problems are found to have persistent, long lasting effect and even cumulative consequences that pertain through late adolescence to early adulthood (Swing et al., 2010). Furthermore, playing videogames in childhood might increase the chance of attention problems in later life (Swing et al., 2010). And with the malleability of attention problems decreases with age (Swing et al., 2010), it is difficult to make change, leaving players with persistent attention problems.
Implications for Videogame Playing
Videogames with censored and specialized contents should be used in classrooms strategically as a means to enhance learning motivation of students, especially those with special education needs (SEN) who needs real-time response to stimuli their sensation. Also, students’ attention could be trained with the associated beneficial effects of videogames in a more interactive and interesting way when compared with traditional classroom teaching-and-learning methods of pure copying and memorizing hard facts.
On the other hand, since the amount of time spent on playing videogames is positively correlated to persistent attention problems, it is advised that players’ exposure to videogames should be limited to less than 2 hours per day (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2001; Council on Communications and Media, 2009).
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education. (2001). American Academy of Pediatrics: children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics, 107 (2), 423 ‘ 426.
Anderson, J. R. (2004). Cognitive psychology and its implications (6th ed.). Worth Publishers.
Anderson, D. R., Levin, S. R., & Lorch, E. P. (1977). The effects of TV program pacing on the behavior of preschool children. AV Commun Rev.,25 (2), 159 ‘ 166.
Anguera, J. A., Boccanfuso, J., Rintoul, J. L., Al-Hashimi, O., Faraji, F., Janowich, J., & Gazzaley, A. (2013). Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature, 501 (7465), 97 ‘ 101.
Batista, R., & Vaz de Carvalho, C. (2008, October 22 – 25). Work in progress ‘ learning through role play games. Paper presented at 38th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.. doi:10.1109/FIE.2008.4720599
Burdea, G. C. (2003). Virtual rehabilitation ‘ Benefits and challenges. Methods of Information in Medicine, 42, 519 ‘ 523.
Council on Communications and Media. (2009). From the American Academy of Pediatrics: policy statement ‘ media violence. Pediatrics, 124 (5), 1495 ‘ 1503.
Griffiths, M. D. (2005a). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122 ‘ 123.
Griffiths, M. D. (2005b). The therapeutic value of videogames. In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Game Studies, pp. 161 ‘ 171. Boston: MIT Press.
Mishra, J., Zinni, M., Bavelier, D.,& Hillyard, S. A. (2011). Neural Basis of Superior Performance of Action Videogames Players in an Attention-Demanding Task. Journal of Neuroscience, 31 (3), 992 ‘ 998.
Swing, E. L., Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., & Walsh, D. A. (2010). Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems. Pediatrics, 126 (2), 214 ‘ 221.
The White House. (n. d.). Educate to Innovate. Retrieved from
The White House. (2009). President Obama Launches ‘Educate to Innovate’ Campaign for Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (Stem) Education. Retrieved from

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