Psychologists tout educational benefits of video games

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Psychologists tout educational benefits of video games

Video games could benefit students by improving gamers’ problem-solving skills, dexterity, and scientific thinking, psychologists say.

At the annual convention of the American Psychological Association on Sunday, researchers discussed the effects of video games on high school and college students.

University of Wisconsin researchers highlighted a November 2006 study of nearly 2,000 online discussion posts about the popular multiplayer online game World of Warcraft.

In the study, discussion posts were examined against codes based on national benchmarks for scientific literacy to see what types of conversations took place, such as social bantering versus problem-solving.

The codes addressed different aspects of scientific thinking, including: reasoning using systems and models; understanding feedback; predicting and testing; and using mathematics to investigate a problem.

Researchers found 86 percent of participants to share their knowledge to solve problems, and 58 percent of participants to use systematic and evaluative process that indicate scientific reasoning.

“These forums illustrate how sophisticated intellectual practices to improve game play mimic actual scientific reasoning,” said Sean Duncan, a University of Wisconsin researcher who was involved in the study.

“Gamers are openly discussing their strategies and thinking, creating an environment in which informal scientific reasoning practices are being learned by playing these online video games,” he said.

The researchers suggest that game-based learning could supplement textbooks and science labs in fostering scientific thinking.

Separate studies conducted by Iowa State University psychologists have found players of ‘prosocial’ games to get into fewer fights in school, and be more helpful to other students.

But not all video games were found to have positive effects on players.

Researchers found players of violent games were found to be more hostile, less forgiving and more desensitised to violence, compared to those who played nonviolent games.

Meanwhile, students who play more ‘entertainment games’ were found to do poorer at school and be at greater risk of obesity.

“The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects,” said Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile.

“[Dimensions include] 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.”

“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,” he said.

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