Having trouble assembling your barbecue, noticing things on the road or figuring out advanced geometry?
It might be time to load up the ol’ shotgun, grab all the power-ups you can handle and head into the digital world to kill some zombies.
According to research by University of Toronto psychology professor Ian Spence and psychology doctoral student Jing Feng, playing first-person shooter video games can greatly improve spatial abilities in both men and women, with women showing the greatest degree of improvement.
Their research also found both sexes’ increase in spatial ability was maintained even five months after having trained with the fast-paced games, regardless of whether the participant had continued to play first-person shooter games.
Spence says traditional research has shown that while men exhibit consistently weaker language acquisition and application skills, women are consistently not as skilled at spatial tasks such as real-time navigation or distinguishing between varieties of fast-moving objects.
Most experts believe this spatial disadvantage has traditionally influenced women to be less likely to enjoy things like engineering, mathematics and other fields that rely heavily on spatial perception, and that the divide stems from early evolution, as male hunters developed better spatial observation skills to avoid danger and help kill their prey.
“The ability to very quickly deploy attention to a situation and pick out things that change quickly in a cluttered environment is a very primitive, low-level thinking skill that would have been important to early survival,” Spence said.
First-person shooter video games force players to use their perceptive skills in a high-intensity setting where enemies and foes have to be quickly distinguished, targets have to be neutralized with speed and accuracy, and reflexes have to be used in a way that tests a player’s spatial ability. The results are like a high-impact training session for your spatial skills that Spence hopes could lead to more women feeling confident enough in their spatial skills to enjoy — and pursue — science and mathematics more.
Spence also hopes his research might in some way break the stigma that certain types of games and activities aren’t meant for women.
“Play is very important for improving your brain and girls should be given more opportunities for the kind of play that could emphasize spatial skills. Even the smallest difference can lead to big consequences,” Spence said.