Playing action video games improves an aspect of vision previously thought to be relatively fixed, finds a study online in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The paper is the first to identify a specific video-game training regimen that could improve eyesight in adults.
Contrast sensitivity is the ability to notice even very small changes in shades of grey against a uniform background, and is important in situations such as driving at night or during poor visibility. This ability is one of the first to be compromised when vision is affected by ageing, and in conditions such as amblyopia, also known as 'lazy eye'. Improving contrast sensitivity usually requires physical changes in eye optics, through eye surgery, glasses or contact lenses.
Daphne Bavelier and her colleagues studied expert video game players and found that they had better contrast sensitivity when compared to players who played non-action video games. These results weren't because people with better contrast sensitivity were more likely to be action video game players, because giving non-video game players intensive daily practice in video game playing improved this group's performance on tests of contrast sensitivity. The improvements did not happen if the gamers played a non-action video game, and so were specific to playing action-filled video games.
Crucially, the improvements in this study were sustained for months or even years in some cases, suggesting that time spent in front of a computer screen is not necessarily harmful for vision, as has sometimes been suggested.