Improving multi-tasking ability through action videogames
, Mark Conger
, Janet Liao
, J. Lynn Caldwell
, Kim-Phuong L. Vu
California State University Long Beach, Department of Psychology, 1250 N Bellﬂower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840, USA
Air Force Research Lab, 711 Human Performance Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH 45433, USA
Northrop Grumman Corporation, Advanced Programs & Technology, El Segundo, CA 90245, USA
Received 25 November 2011
Accepted 10 August 2012
The present study examined whether action videogames can improve multi-tasking in high workload
environments. Two groups with no action videogame experience were pre-tested using the
Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB). It consists of two primary tasks; tracking and fuel management,
and two secondary tasks; systems monitoring and communication. One group served as a control group,
while a second played action videogames a minimum of 5 h a week for 10 weeks. Both groups returned
for a post-assessment on the MATB. We found the videogame treatment enhanced performance on
secondary tasks, without interfering with the primary tasks. Our results demonstrate action videogames
can increase people’s ability to take on additional tasks by increasing attentional capacity.
Ó2012 Elsevier Ltd and The Ergonomics Society. All rights reserved.
1.1. The need to train multi-tasking ability
Information technology has greatly increased system
complexity (Dekker, 2012;Karr-Wisniewski and Lu, 2010). Whether
the domain is nuclear power plants, unmanned aircraft systems
(UAS), military command, or air trafﬁc control, operators need to
coordinate the performance of multiple tasks, but have limited
attentional resources to do so (Chiappe et al., 2012;Liu et al., 2009).
Indeed, cognitive demands on operators are most likely going to
increase. In the case of UAS, for example, future designs will
incorporate more high-resolution cameras and sensing equipment,
increased weapons delivery capabilities, and possibly a single
operator controlling many aircraft (Liu et al., 2009). Although
automation tools are being developed, their net effect will likely be
to reduce physical workload while increasing cognitive workload
(McCarley and Wickens, 2005;Dehais et al., 2012). Fortunately,
recent studies have found that capacity for attention can be
enhanced (Bavelier et al., 2012). The present study examines
whether videogames can serve as a cost-effective training tool to
increase operators’proﬁciency at coordinating multiple tasks in
Much research has been devoted to how to train performance of
complex cognitive tasks; ones requiring people to simultaneously
process multiple interacting information elements as they carry out
various subtasks (e.g., Healy et al., 2012;Lim et al., 2009;Merrill,
2002;Paas and Van Gog, 2009). In general, training is most effec-
tive when it involves practicing all subtasks simultaneously, in
environments that are as similar as possible to those the operator
will be engaged in (Paas and Van Gog, 2009;Van Merriënboer and
Kirschner, 2007). High-ﬁdelity training environments, however, are
costly. As such, cost-effective techniques are being investigated,
including using off the shelf action videogames (Green and Bavelier,
2008;Wu et al., 2012).
Action videogames have the potential to serve as useful training
tools for improving multi-tasking because they can preserve the
cognitive authenticity associated with many complex tasks
(Herrington et al., 2003). Cognitive authenticity refers to when
training and transfer environments possess similar information-
processing demands, despite different superﬁcial characteristics.
The beneﬁt of cognitive authenticity is illustrated by Cassavaugh
and Kramer (2009), who found that computer-based training of
attention demanding driving tasks improved driving performance
of older adults. The cognitive authenticity of many videogames
stems from the fact that they simulate the same mental demands
many system operators regularly employ; constantly shifting
attention across multiple tasks that include monitoring commu-
nications, fuel status, weapons, and the location of team members,
all while simultaneously navigating through a virtual system
(Spence and Feng, 2010;Wu et al., 2012).
Using action videogames to develop multi-tasking skills is also
supported by well-known training principles. This includes delib-
erate practice, well-timed feedback, and variability of training
*Corresponding author. Tel.: þ1 562 985 5024.
E-mail address: email@example.com (D. Chiappe).
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Applied Ergonomics 44 (2013) 278e284
(Healy et al., 2012). With respect to deliberate practice, action
videogames promote learning that is highly motivated, focused,
and effortful (Green et al., 2010). They have features motivating
players to keep improving their performance, including different
levels of difﬁculty so novices can gradually develop their skills.
They also have engaging storylines and cinematic elements like
music and sound effects that increase emotional impact. In terms of
well-timed feedback, videogames often display scores at the end of
each level. This allows players to improve performance without
interfering with play. If games feature multiplayer modes, feedback
on how performance compares to others can also motivate players
to improve their skills (Spence and Feng, 2010). Regarding “vari-
ability of training,”with the great number of titles available, vid-
eogames offer a large variety of contexts where skills relevant to
multi-tasking can be exercised. Varying the practice stimuli
strengthens representations of key features that need to be atten-
ded to during task performance, increasing the likelihood that
individuals will be able to generate action schemata in novel situ-
ations (Green et al., 2010).
1.2. Theoretical background
While the preceding suggests that videogames may improve
multi-tasking, this is only going to be the case if capacity for
attention can be modiﬁed through training. Fortunately, many
studies have found that videogame play can increase attentional
resources (e.g., Bavelier et al., 2012;Boot et al., 2008;Green et al.,
2010;Hubert-Wallander et al., 2011;Rosser et al., 2007). The
greatest beneﬁts come from action videogames, particularly the
First Person Shooter (FPS) variety, as opposed to strategy games,
role playing games, or maze/puzzle games (Feng et al., 2007;Green
and Bavelier, 2003, 2006;Spence et al., 2009). This is not surprising
because as Spence and Feng (2010) point out, action videogames
place greater demands on spatial attention than other genres.
Playing FPS games requires that individuals have their attention
captured by unexpected objects in the periphery. They must quickly
recognize those objects, select relevant ones for further processing
and ignore those that are irrelevant, all while making split-second
decisions. In addition, FPS games require individuals to divide their
attention across different objects, as multiple threats often need to
be dealt with simultaneously.
Studies also suggest that the increased attentional resources
produced by action videogames lead to a broadening of the atten-
tional visual ﬁeld (Hubert-Wallander et al., 2011;Bavelier et al.,
2012). This is the area around ﬁxation an individual is able to
attend to, and process information from, without moving their
head or eyes. For example, Green and Bavelier (2003) used the
Useful Field of View task (UFOV) that required participants to
identify small targets presented radially at different eccentricities
). They found individuals that trained with action
videogames improved their ability to identify targets at all eccen-
tricities compared to those trained by playing non-action video-
games. Green and Bavelier (2006) added a primary task that
required processing information at ﬁxation, in addition to detecting
peripheral targets. They found action videogame and non-action
videogame groups did not differ in the primary task. However,
the former performed better on the peripheral task. This suggests
the improved ability to process peripheral information did not
come at the expense of primary task performance. Important to our
purpose, these results suggest playing action videogames can
improve people’s ability to take on additional tasks.
More recently, neuropsychological research has found evidence
that action videogames beneﬁt attentional processing. Bavelier
et al. (2012), for example, compared action videogame players to
non-gamers in a fMRI study that used a version of the UFOV task.
They found that non-gamers featured increased activation of
fronto-parietal regions (i.e., regions crucial to the control of atten-
tion) as attentional demands of the task increased, while gamers
did not. Evidently, the latter were able to manage the greater task
demands with less attentional effort. Likewise, Wu et al. (2012)
recorded ERP at parietal regions while people performed a task
similar to the UFOV. Two training groups were compared; those
that had played a FPS game for 10 h, and those that played a non-
action videogame for 10 h. They found large differences in late-
onset parietal activation for those who played the FPS game, but
not for the control group. Wu et al. (2012) state this reﬂects an
enhanced allocation of attentional resources among those that
played the FPS game. More directly related to multi-tasking, Maclin
et al. (2011) examined parietal ERP changes for primary and
secondary task performance as a function of playing the Space
Fortress action videogame. In a pre-assessment, participants played
the game while also performing the “oddball”secondary task. The
latter required them to silently count the rare tones presented in
a sequence of frequent tones. This was followed by 20 h of playing
the videogame. During a post-assessment, participants had to play
the game while carrying out the oddball task. They found that after
treatment, parietal ERP activity was lower during videogame
maneuvers, but higher during the oddball task. Thus, due to prac-
tice, participants were able to devote fewer attentional resources to
the videogame, and were able to devote more to the secondary
1.3. The present study
This study also examined whether action videogames can
improve multi-tasking. It differs from previous studies in important
respects. First, people administered treatment in their own home.
This was done because for videogame training to be cost-effective
(e.g., as part of an effort to reduce the high cost of pilot training), it
should be implemented at home. It is thus necessary to show
beneﬁts even when treatment is administered outside the conﬁnes
of the laboratory. Second, we assessed multi-tasking using the
Multi-Attribute Task Battery (MATB), a task environment much
more complex than is typically used in videogame research. It
consists of two dwell tasks requiring constant monitoring and
action, as well as two secondary tasks performed intermittently,
simulating many of the tasks that aircrews regularly perform. It is
a validated measure that correlates with real-world performance
(Comstock and Arnegard, 1992). By using the MATB, we were able
to determine whether effects of videogame play “scale up,”and
provide beneﬁts in high-workload tasks more comparable to
realistic task environments. This is important because a recent
study by Donohue et al. (2012) calls this into question. It failed to
ﬁnd multi-tasking differences between action videogame players
and non-players using complex tasks. For example, videogame
players did not perform better in a driving task under dual task
conditions that required participants to simultaneously answer
In our study, two groups with no experience playing action
videogames were pre-tested using the MATB. One group served as
a control, while the experimental group was treated with action
videogame play for 10 weeks. Both groups were then given a post-
assessment on the MATB. We hypothesized that if playing action
videogames increases attentional resources, those receiving the
treatment should perform better on the MATB post-assessment.
Consistent with claim that greater attentional resources leads
to a broadening of the attentional ﬁeld, we expected the biggest
improvement to be in the secondary MATB tasks, and that this
improvement should not come at the expense of the primary
D. Chiappe et al. / Applied Ergonomics 44 (2013) 278e284 279
Participants were undergraduates from California State Univer-
sity, Long Beach. They were recruited fromIntroductory Psychology
courses and word-of-mouth. Potential participants ﬁlled-out
questionnaires to be entered into a rafﬂe for $50. This question-
naire asked students to provide information about whether they
are currently playing videogames, or whether they have played
them in the past, and if so, which types of games they played. Of the
600 questionnaires received, we selected 53 individuals who
indicated they had no prior or current experience playing action
videogames. Of these, 26 were randomly assigned to the video-
game group and 27 to the control group. Ages ranged from 18 to 36
with a mean of 22 years for both groups. Two videogame partici-
pants were dropped for not playing the required amount. Two
control participants were dropped because they did not attend all
assessment sessions. The remaining included 12 males and 12
females in the videogame group, and 12 males and 13 females in
the control. According to their responses to a questionnaire, all
participants had normal or corrected to normal vision, and 87%
reported being right-handed. All reported being in good general
health, with no physical disabilities. Furthermore, 76% reported
their occupation as being a full time student. The remainder re-
ported working part-time, with sales and service jobs as the most
The tool used to assess multi-tasking is the MATB (Comstock
and Arnegard, 1992). It consists of computerized tasks analogous
to activities aircrews perform while engaged in high workload
ﬂight operations, yet is accessible to populations with no aviation
experience. It requires the performance of four tasks: systems
monitoring, fuel management, communications, and tracking tasks.
These are described in detail in Table 1.
Videogame participants were given a SONY PS3Ôconsole to use
at home during the 10 weeks of treatment. In addition, they were
given commercially-available FPS games. This means players have
the same point of view as the main character in the game, and the
primary task is to shoot at enemy targets. While designing our own
game would have afforded greater control over the stimuli that
participants were exposed to, we followed much of the research
literature in using off the shelf games. Indeed, many of the games
we used were ones used in other studies examining the cognitive
effects of action videogames. Although some control is relinquished
by not designing our own game, the virtue is it allows us to examine
whether these products can be used to enhance attentional
resources. This is important because for videogame training to be
cost effective, it will be necessary to use commercially available
Furthermore, as Spence and Feng (2010) point out, despite
differing in some superﬁcial details, commercially available FPS
games represent a coherent stimulus class, as the games share key
features that distinguish them from other types of games, including
strategy games, role playing games, and puzzle games. They feature
considerable sensory demands, as targets are often presented in
cluttered settings. In terms of attentional demands, all the games
feature abrupt onset of events, with the need to discriminate and
select important objects among distracters. The games also require
task switching and multi-tasking, as players have to monitor factors
such as ammunition and weapons systems, as well as other team
members, while at the same time carrying out the primary task of
shooting targets. In addition, multiple objects have to be attended
to, and often at the periphery of the visual ﬁeld. Working memory is
also taxed by these games as people have to make decisions on how
to allocate resources, and which weapons to use, often under
stressful conditions. Finally, all games place high demands on
spatial cognition as they require mental rotation and navigation
through complex visual domains. They also require visuo-motor
coordination through aiming and shooting and the operation of
complex virtual machinery. In short, games were chosen for the
high mental, visual, and attentional demands they exert. Our
participants were given two games to start: Ghost Recon Advanced
War Fighter 2Ôand Unreal Tournament 3Ô. Once they ﬁnished
these, they were given additional games including Medal of Hon-
orÔ,VanquishÔ, Bioshock 2Ô, and Resistance 2Ô.
Selected participants in the control and videogame groups were
brought into our lab for a pre-assessment on the MATB. It was
administered in four high workload sessions, including one 10-min
(familiarization), one 20-min (warm-up), and two 30-min (practice
and test) sessions. The last 30-min session was used in the analyses
Once they completed the pre-assessment, participants in the
videogame condition were trained on the PS3Ô. Experimenters
taught participants how to set up the console. They were then
assisted on the training modes of the games Ghost Recon 2Ôand
Unreal Tournament3Ô. This ensured they understood how to orient
their characters, the goals of the games, and basic maneuvers such
as how to use weapons and positioning. The participants were then
instructed on how to complete their weekly game-playing diaries.
Participants were asked to play a minimum of 5 h per week for
10 weeks, but were given some ﬂexibility for their weekly game
playing. All participants averaged a minimum of 5 h of play across
the 10 weeks. To keep track of gameplay, participants were emailed
a videogame diary each week. This required them to record perti-
nent information about their videogame activities, including time
of play, achievements made, how enjoyable the games were during
each session, and whether they experienced any difﬁculties.
Participants were informed that they could be asked to come to the
The Multi-Attribute Task battery.
Task Description of duties
Tracking task Requires the manual operation of a joystick to keep a target in the center of a tracking window.
Fuel management task Requires the activation of virtual pumps in order to ﬁll two tanks, maintaining them as closely as possible at a pre-speciﬁed ideal level.
Systems monitoring task Requires monitoring lights and dials. For the lights, when one goes out, participants are required to press a button to turn it back on.
For the other designated light, participants have to press a button when it is lit to turn the light back off. For the dials, participants have
to reset a dial by pressing a button if it is found to be operating outside of a speciﬁed range.
Communications task Requires individuals to respond to auditory communication instructions to a particular call-sign (ignoring communications to
other call-signs). When their call-sign is mentioned, they have to change one of two communications settings, or one of two
The MATB tool was presented to participants on a Dell Desktop computer using a 20
D. Chiappe et al. / Applied Ergonomics 44 (2013) 278e284280
lab to demonstrate their reported level of videogame skills during
the course of the study. Because we captured the number of re-
ported hours of videogame playing and levels/games completed in
the weekly diaries, we were able to perform correlational analyses
to examine the relationship between number of games completed
and performance on the MATB.
Participants in the videogame and control conditions were
informed after the pre-assessment whether they would be coming
back for one more (post-assessment only) or two more (mid-term
and post-assessment) sessions. Following each session, the control
group was paid in cash, at a rate of $10/hour. In the post-
assessment, videogame participants were given the code to
unlock their PS3Ôconsoles, which they were allowed to keep.
3.1. Description of analyses
To analyze performance on the MATB, we conducted a series of
2223 mixed-model analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests, with
condition (videogame vs. control) and gender (male vs. female) as
between-subject factors, and session (pre-assessment vs. post-
assessment) and interval (ﬁrst 10 min, second 10 min, vs. third
10 min) as repeated measures factors. Interval was included
because workload is not evenly distributed throughout the MATB.
Workload starts light (e.g., no communications, and dials within the
normal range) and builds during the session. Including interval
therefore enabled us to examine whether there are any changes in
performance throughout the session, either because of fatigue, or
practice effects. The alpha level was set a priori to a p-value of .05
for statistical signiﬁcance, and to .10 for marginal effects.
While MATB yields data on 21 variables, separate ANOVAs were
carried out only for some of these. We only included variables not
suffering from range restriction and that have been reported in
other studies using the MATB (e.g., Caldwell and Ramspott, 1998;
Singh et al., 2010). We also selected variables in each MATB subtask.
For reasons of brevity, below we report only ﬁndings pertaining to
main effects or interactions with the variable condition. Whenever
appropriate we also include correlations for the videogame group
between number of games completed and performance.
The analysis examining RT for correct responses to communi-
cation instructions (COMCRT) revealed a signiﬁcant interaction
between session and condition, F(1,45) ¼5.02, p<.05. In the
control, RT did not decrease between pre- and post-assessments,
F<1, but for the videogame condition, RT did decrease,
F(1,22) ¼10.18, p¼.004 (See Fig. 1). Although the two groups
started off at the same level, the videogame group was faster at
responding to communications during the post-assessment. There
were no other main effects or interactions. Correlation analyses
between number of videogames completed and post-assessment
COMCRT revealed that those who completed more games had
a faster RT (r¼.41, p<.05). There was no signiﬁcant correlation
between number of games completed and pre-assessment
COMCRT (p>.10). These results show playing videogames for 10
weeks improved performance on the communications task.
An analysis of the standard deviation of the RT to correctly
respond to communication instructions (COMCSD) revealed
a marginal interactionbetween session and condition, F(1,45)¼3.32,
p¼.075. For the control group, SD did not decrease between the pre-
and post-assessments, F<1. For the videogame condition, however,
there was a decrease in SD between the two assessments,
F(1,22) ¼4.47, p<.05 (See Fig. 2). Not only did the videogame
participants become faster; they also became more consistent in
how quickly they responded to communications. This is further
supported by a negative correlation between number of games
completed and their overall COMCSD performance for the post-
assessment (r¼.48, p¼.017). Number of videogames completed
was not related to performance during the pre-assessment.
3.3. Systems monitoring
With respect to the time out errors for the dials (DLSTO), there
was a main effect of condition, F(1,45) ¼6.84, p<.05. Videogame
participants had fewer time-out errors (M¼.33, SE ¼.10) than
controls (M¼.70, SE ¼.10). There was also a signiﬁcant interaction
between session, gender, and condition, F(1,45) ¼6.02, p¼.018.
Subsequent analyses revealed that for male participants there was
a signiﬁcant interaction between session and condition (See Fig. 3),
F(1,22) ¼5.95, p¼.02, but not for females F(1,23) ¼1.06, p¼.31. For
the males in the control condition, the time-out errors increased
between the pre-assessment (M¼.42, SE ¼.19) and the post-
assessment (M¼.83, SE ¼.21), while for the videogame group,
the time-out errors decreased between the pre-assessment
(M¼.50, SE ¼.19) and the post-assessment (M¼.17, SE ¼.21).
Reaction Time to Respond to
Mean RT (in seconds)
Fig. 1. Reaction time to respond to communication instructions.
Standard Deviation of Reaction Time to
Respond to Communication Instructions
Mean SD (in seconds)
Fig. 2. Standard deviation of reaction time to respond to communication instructions.
One-third of the control and videogame participants came back for a midterm
evaluation on the MATB. However, due to the small sample size, no signiﬁcant
effects were obtained when comparing the midterm performance to the pre-test
performance. Many of the trends evident in the midterm, though, were signiﬁ-
cant in the post-assessment comparisons.
D. Chiappe et al. / Applied Ergonomics 44 (2013) 278e284 281
Furthermore, there was an interaction between interval, session,
and condition, F(2,90) ¼5.39, p¼.006. Post hoc analyses revealed
that for the control group, the interaction between session and
interval was not signiﬁcant, F(2, 46) ¼2.95, p¼.10. For the video-
game condition, the interaction was marginally signiﬁcant,
F(2,44) ¼3.07, p¼.056. In the pre-assessment, videogame partici-
pants displayed an inverted U function across the three intervals.
They had fewer time-outerrors in the ﬁrst interval (M¼.29, SE ¼.14),
but these increased during the higher workload second interval
(M¼.92, SE ¼.30), and then decreased again in the ﬁnal interval
(M¼.21, SE ¼.10). However, in the post-assessment, time-out errors
did not increase due to increasing workload. Instead, they decreased
from the ﬁrst (M¼.25, SE ¼.09) and second interval (M¼.25,
SE ¼.11)to the third (M¼.08, SE ¼.06). Thus, in the post-assessment,
the videogame participants displayed a greater ability to manage an
increased workload, while the controlgroup did not display a similar
improvement. Furthermore, in the post-assessment, the more
games participants completed, the fewer their time-out errors inthe
second 10-min interval (r¼.39, p¼.056). In contrast, none of the
correlations between the number of games completed and DLSTO
errors for the pre-assessment were signiﬁcant.
For the RT to respond to the lights (LTSRT), there was a main
effect of condition, F(1,45) ¼5.34, p<.05. Overall, videogame
participants responded more quickly to the lights (M¼1.72 s ,
SE ¼.08) than controls (M¼1.9 7 s , SE ¼.08). There was also an
interaction between interval and condition, F(2,90) ¼5.59,
p¼.005. For the control group, RT remained constant throughout
the three 10-min intervals, F(2,46) ¼1.89, p¼.163, while for the
videogame group, RT decreased across the three 10-min intervals,
F(2,44) ¼7.15 , p¼.002, showing that the videogame participants
improved throughout the 30-min sessions while the control group
did not. However, the absence of an interaction between interval,
condition and session does not allow us to conclude that the
improvement is due to treatment.
With respect to the time-out errors to the lights (LTSTO), there
were no main effects or interactions with condition (F<1).
However, we found a negative correlation between the number of
games completed and the number of time-out errors to the lights in
the post-assessment (r¼.40, p¼.055), but not for the pre-
assessment (r¼.16, p¼.46), showing a beneﬁt of playing vid-
eogames for 10 weeks.
For the tracking task, we examined the tracking RMS errors
(TRKRMS). We found a main effect of condition, with videogame
participants (M¼23.25, SE ¼1.09) overall performing better than
controls (M¼27.86, SE ¼1.07), F(1,45) ¼9.10, p¼.004. However,
the lack of an interaction between session and condition (F<1)
suggests the intervention is not responsible for this effect. None of
the correlations between number of videogames completed and
post-assessment TRKRMS approached signiﬁcance.
3.5. Fuel management
Prior to analyzing the mean deviation of fuel tanks from the
ideal of 2500 (TNKMAD), three participants’responses were
dropped (two control, and one videogame) because their data was
greater than 2 standard deviations from the mean. With the
remaining participants, we found a signiﬁcant effect of condition,
F(1,42) ¼4.84, p¼.033. Participants in the videogame condition did
better (M¼279.24, SE ¼30.26) than the controls (M¼373.41,
SE ¼30.26). No other main effects or interactions reached signiﬁ-
cance, including the interaction between session and condition,
F(1,45) ¼1.02, p¼.32. The absence of an interaction between
session and condition does not allow us to claim the treatment had
any effect on this task. Furthermore, none of the correlations
between number of videogames completed and TNKMAD for the
post-assessment were signiﬁcant.
We examined whether action videogames can enhance the
ability of novices to carry out multiple tasks. We found playing FPS
games improved performance on the communications and systems
monitoring tasks of the MATB. Speciﬁcally, participants who played
FPS games became faster and more consistent in their time to
respond to communications, with those completing more games
showing the most improvement. In the systems monitoring tasks,
videogame participants got better at monitoring and responding to
the lights and dials compared to control participants. In particular,
male videogame players showed a greater overall improvement in
reacting to dials. Furthermore, videogame participants but not
control participants, improved in their ability to react to dials
needing their attention during the high workload second interval.
Indeed, the more games they completed, the fewer time out errors
they had during this interval. With respect to reacting to the lights,
participants that completed more videogames had fewer time out
errors. However, our results did not reveal any differences between
conditions in the tracking or fuel management tasks that could be
attributed to treatment.
Our results show the 10-week action videogame treatment
improved performance on the secondary tasks, and this beneﬁt did
not come at the expense of the primary tasks. The tracking and fuel
management tasks are primary because they appear in the center of
the ﬁeld of view, and are the most dynamic and demanding of
attentional resources. The fuel management task also requires
complex decision-making because participants have to develop
a strategy for efﬁciently transferring fuel across the various tanks.
In contrast, the communications and system monitoring tasks,
although important, do not change as frequently, require inter-
mittent responding, and involve processing peripheral information.
Of course, because we only used action videogames and no other
types of videogames, on their own the results of our study do not
allow us to conclude that only action videogames beneﬁtmulti-
tasking. However, given the results of previous studies (e.g., Wu
et al., 2012;Spence and Feng, 2010), it is likely that the nature of
the FPS games produced the performance beneﬁts.
The present ﬁndings are noteworthy because, unlike other
experiments examining the effects of videogames (e.g., Feng et al.,
2007;Green and Bavelier, 2006), we had participants administer
Time Out Errors to Dials for Males
Mean Number of Errors
Fig. 3. Number of time out errors to respond to dials in systems monitoring task.
D. Chiappe et al. / Applied Ergonomics 44 (2013) 278e284282
the treatment in their own home rather than in a lab. Although we
required them to carefully document their videogame play, we did
not closely monitor their activity during treatment. We took this
approach for reasons of ecological validity eit is likely that any
training program that makes use of videogame play will require
individuals to administer the treatment on their own. Adding close
supervision would, after all, eliminate much of the cost effective-
ness. The fact that videogame play enhanced performance even
though the intervention took place at home demonstrates the
robustness of the treatment.
The results of the present study are consistent with those re-
ported by Green and Bavelier (2006). Their study employed the
UFOV task, where the primary task required participants to
discriminate between shapes presented centrally, while the
secondary task required them to identify the location of targets
presented peripherally. They found that action videogame training
improved performance on the peripheral task, without sacriﬁcing
performance on the primary task. A key difference between our
study and theirs, however, is that we employed a much more
complex task, one that has been shown to predict performance in
real life settings ethe MATB.
Our ﬁnding that action videogame play improved participants’
performance in a complex task differs from that obtained by
Donohue et al. (2012). They found that participants classiﬁed as
action videogame players did not perform complex tasks under
dual task conditions better than non-gamers. One possible reason
for the discrepancy between the present results and theirs is that in
our study, participants played videogames for a longer period of
time (minimum of 5 h per week). In Donohue et al. (2012),
participants labeled “action videogame players”reported currently
playing only an average of 3 h per week. Thus, it is possible they
were not playing enough to see multi-tasking beneﬁts in complex
task environments. Indeed, we saw that the more games people
completed in the 10 weeks of treatment, the more they improved in
their ability to multi-task. In addition, Donohue et al. (2012) used
a trivia task as a secondary task that is different from the visuo-
spatial or communication secondary tasks used in the present
study. Although the trivia task was prescreened to include ques-
tions that participants would answer with 50e90% accuracy, in
actuality it resulted in much lower accuracy rates, as participants
under dual task conditions averaged only slightly above 50%. Thus,
it is not clear whether the excessive difﬁculty of their secondary
task washed out any differences between the action videogame
players and non-players, or whether the participants were even
taking the secondary tasks very seriously.
According to Hubert-Wallander et al. (2011), action videogame
play enhances multi-tasking by increasing attentional resources.
This allows for a broadening of the attentional visual ﬁeld (see also
Feng et al., 2007 and West et al., 2008). Playing such games thus
increases the ability to spatially distribute visual attention and to
resolve visual details. As a result, when task-relevant information
appears on the periphery, it is more likely to capture attention and
receive the required processing. Our ﬁnding that the videogame
participants showed improvements on the systems monitoring tasks
supports this theory. Although their attention was primarily focused
on the tracking and fuel management tasks, the videogame players
were more likely to notice deviations in the lights and dials and to be
able to process these stimuli during high-workload intervals.
The fact that we found videogame play also enhanced the ability
to process auditory communications suggests that the beneﬁts of
videogame play are not limited to the visual modality, but can spill
over to other modalities. While many studies have found increases
in visual attention (e.g., Spence and Feng, 2010;Green and Bavelier,
2008), ours is the ﬁrst to show behaviorally that the increased
attentional capacity occurs in both the visual and auditory
modalities. Maclin et al. (2011) found increased attentional
resources for an acoustic secondary task. However, the attentional
beneﬁts were only evident in the ERP data, and not in the behav-
ioral data. Finding behavioral beneﬁts that span modalities is
important, however, because complex systems often distribute
information across modalities, with a strong reliance on auditory
communications and alarms. In short, our results support the view
that attentional capacity is a domain-general resource that can be
increased through training (Liu et al., 2009;Shipstead et al., 2010).
The ﬁnding that action videogame play enhances the ability of
individuals to process peripheral information also suggests training
programs that incorporate this treatment will likely yield
improvements in the ability of operators to maintain situation
awareness (SA). SA refers to the understanding needed to operate
a system in a rapidly changing task environment (Chiappe et al., in
press;Durso et al., 2007). Maintaining SA requires perceiving task-
relevant information, comprehending this information in light of
current processing goals, and projecting the status of the system
into the near future (Endsley, 2006). Indeed, operators of complex
systems spend much of their time developing SA and ensuring that
it is up to date (Stanton et al., 2010).
As Endsley (2006) points out, most cases where human error is
identiﬁed as the cause of an aviation mishap, the problem lies with
an operator’s failure to maintain SA. Most of these failures stem
from failing to perceive information in the environment. For
example, Jones and Endsley (1996) examined 143 aviation inci-
dents involving pilots and air trafﬁc controllers. They found that
76% of the SA errors involved perceptual failures. In contrast, 20% of
the errors involved failures in comprehension, with the remainder
being failures to properly project future states of a system. Relevant
to our ﬁndings, the majority of the perception errors involved
a failure to perceive information that was clearly available in the
operator’s environment, including requests for communication.
Many of these failures arose because the pilots or controllers were
already engaged in other tasks, displaying “attentional tunneling.”
This is likely to happen under conditions of stress, which increases
the likelihood of people ignoring peripheral information, even if it
happens to be an otherwise salient alarm (Dehais et al., 2012).
In short, failing to maintain SA by ignoring communication
requests or failing to monitor the status of systems can have
disastrous consequences. Fortunately, it appears playing action
videogames can improve SA by minimizing the likelihood opera-
tors will succumb to a narrowing of attention when carrying out
primary tasks. Action videogames can therefore serve as training
tools for increasing attentional capacity. Furthermore, operators
will likely enjoy implementing this tool, yielding real improve-
ments at a relatively low-cost.
This research was funded by Northrop Grumman Corporation.
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