Playing video games can improve reading skills, U of S study finds

“Activities that may impact attentional processes, such as video games, may also impact reading,” says researcher Shaylyn Kress.

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Shaylyn Kress, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), may have identified what kids have always wanted their parents to think – that playing video games regularly could count as homework.


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A study by Kress produced data that shows that activity can help improve peripheral attention skills that are essential for reading ability.

According to data collected in 2020 by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 23 million Canadians are “gamers” – people who regularly play video games – and the number of hours played per week has been increasing since the start. of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Canada, 89% of kids ages 6-17 reported playing video games regularly, and 66% of kids and teens said they streamed (played or watched) video games more during the pandemic.

To determine how this hugely popular Canadian pastime affects reading skills, Kress’s research team analyzed which types of video games were the most popular and rated each to determine the average number of objects players had to react and who were placed on the periphery – on the side. , at the top or bottom of the screen — as opposed to the middle.

A group of participants with varying levels of video game experience performed a demanding reading task involving flashing words in one of eight possible locations on a screen. The words were a mix of well-known words that were easy to read and fake words that required phonetics – “sounding” – to be read.

The study determined that exposure to more peripheral demands in video games likely exerted visual attention systems in the brain that are necessary for fast and efficient reading.


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“We observed that the people most exposed to visual demands presented peripherally in video games – for example, a text notification or an enemy appearing on the side of your screen rather than in the center of the screen – tended to have faster reading reaction times than individuals. with less or no exposure to the visual demands presented at the periphery,” Kress said.

Shaylyn Kress, graduate student from the University of Saskatchewan.
Shaylyn Kress, graduate student from the University of Saskatchewan. Photo by Unsplash/ /Photo provided

She notes that a surprising finding from the study was the relationship between reading times and peripherally presented visual demands during phonetic decoding of words as well as during lexical reading (sight reading) of words.

This means that participants with more experience with the peripheral visual demands of the game may be able to read known words and speak new words faster than those who don’t play as often.

“Attention is an important part of successful reading. Your eyes need to scan a page systematically to process every word and sentence correctly, for example. Therefore, activities that can impact attentional processes, like video games, can also impact reading,” Kress said.

Kress said the research can lead to better video game designs that can promote healthier habits and increased skill development for children and adults who enjoy video games.

“The economics and healthcare sectors benefit from this research because it could lead to collaborations between scientists, clinicians and game developers to create educational games tailored to improve reading ability,” Kress said.


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“Ultimately, society at large benefits from this research by gaining a better understanding of the impacts their hobbies might have on their brains.”

Kress completed her Master of Arts in 2020 and is currently pursuing her PhD at the U of S under the supervision of Dr. Ron Borowsky, Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the U of S College of Arts and Science. Department of Psychology and Health Studies. Kress has been involved in research leading to 10 peer-reviewed publications to date.

Kress said her doctoral research will focus on further exploring the role of peripheral visual demands on reading performance. This will involve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of participants during visually demanding peripheral activities to determine which brain regions are involved.

• Research is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants program and the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships program.

This content is from a partnership between the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the University of Saskatchewan.

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