Can video games enhance auditory processing? New research dives deeper into the effects of video gaming on visual and auditory cognitive functions.

Joyce Chen ’23

Figure 1: Previous studies have shown that video games can enhance visual cognition in daily tasks. It is unclear whether or not video games can affect auditory processing in avid game players. 

Within the past few decades, video games have become one of the most universally treasured forms of entertainment among players of all ages. Amongst various genres, action games are widely popularized across the United States. Despite the notable effects that video games have on visual processing, there is a lack of evidence regarding the effect of video games on auditory function. Researcher Hannah J. Stewart of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and several other researchers organized a research study involving 80 game players and non-players. The participants took tests that focused on auditory cognitive functions by attempting to drown out background auditory distractions while concentrating on a particular task. 

The team first classified the participants into four distinct categories based on their type of gameplay. Action video game players (AVGPs) solely played first and third person shooter games, while tweeners (TW) were classified as multi-genre gamer players. The two remaining groups consisted of non-players (NPs) and others (OT), who did not fall into any of the previous categories. The researchers hypothesized that, out of all of the groups, the AVGPs would score the highest on auditory skill, with the TWs and OTs following and the NPs last. The Test of Attention in Listening (TAiL) played an auditory distraction in the background while listeners had to concentrate on a particular location or frequency. Interestingly, the AVGPs did not significantly outperform the rest of the groups. In fact, they scored about the same as the NPs, indicating that they were both easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli. 

The second auditory task, called the Bamford-Kowal-Bench Speech-in-Noise (BKB-SiN), played sentences with keywords against a noisy background ‘babble’ noise. All groups performed fairly well with no significant differences. They had low speech-noise ratios (SNRs), indicating that they had decent listening through noise performance. 

The last main task, Listening in Spatialized Noise-Sentences (LiSN-S), was similar to the TAiL test in that both played irrelevant distractions in the background. However, the LiSN-S required the subjects to carefully listen to sentences spoken through the distraction, which consisted of multiple voices moving around. Again, all groups had relatively similar scores throughout the task. 

In contrast to the researchers’ hypothesis, game players are no different from non-game players in terms of auditory processing. However, game players may perform better on visual tasks because of direct visual training from video gaming. Although Dr. Stewart and her team gathered noteworthy results, there is still a lack of empirical data on this area of study. With additional research, scientists can fully confirm whether or not video games correlate with both enhanced visual and auditory skills.

Works Cited: 

[1] H. Stewart, et al., Auditory cognition and perception of action video game players. Sci Rep 10, 14410 (2020). Doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-71235-z

[2] Image retrieved from: https://images.pexels.com/photos/159369/xbox-xbox-one-microsoft-joystick-159369.jpeg?cs=srgb&dl=pexels-pixabay-159369.jpg&fm=jpg

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