"Video game players had faster reaction times on the order of 100 milliseconds, which might not sound like a lot but in this domain it's quite a strong finding," says Castel. "And you can imagine, when driving, a difference of 100 milliseconds could really help you avoid accidents."
On top of the difference in reaction time, Castel says the gamers were using the same searching technique as the non-gamers, "but video game players were faster and more efficient when carrying out this search." Search technique was inferred by a standard measure called "inhibition of return," which determines how people search the visual field based on their response time to objects placed in specific locations at specific times.
Castel says that video games essentially help people "practice" performing things like visual searches and the mental processes that accompany them, which shows why they are effective in training for tasks where fast visual searching is important (military flight training, for instance). He also thinks video games could be a good tool for rehabilitation for people recovering from brain injuries.
As for Rosser, he's already preaching the benefits of video games to the surgeons he trains and directs.
"Mine is an interesting lab," he says. "Where along with the laparoscopic training instruments, virtual reality training instruments and all this other research technology… you have an X-Box, Playstation 2, side by side with these medical-related items. And so… for warm up before laparoscopic cases, we're gaming! Alright? Down time, we are gaming. Because we know from a new study that when we are doing that, even warming up with these games before going in and performing a laparoscopic task, can have a significant positive impact."
Nevertheless, he warns that moderation is important. Rosser says the video-gaming surgeons who performed better showed this effect with just three hours of video game play per week, so kids who play much more than that shouldn't feel vindicated: "I say to the kids out there that Butch Rosser would not be here in this capacity if he played video games and did not have good grades, did not develop perseverance. And I would say to that child out there that thinks that they got a free pass to play video games carte blanche, I say 'Nooo, sadly mistaken.'"
Castel's research was published in the March 2005 issue of the journal Acta Psychologica, and was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant and scholarship. Rosser's study was presented at the 2004 Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference, and received no outside funding.