Professors at the University of Rochester recently concluded a study which argues that purveyors of "fast-paced action video games" like first-person shooters will generally foster quicker and more accurate decision making skills they can use outside of gaming, with "heightened sensitivity" to the immediate world around them.
Charmingly dubbed "Improved probabilistic inference as a general learning mechanism with action video games", the study involved "dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video game players" who were then split into two camps: one playing 50 hours of Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, while the other sat through 50 hours of The Sims 2. As you'll have caught on, one is more action oriented, while the other was considered a "slow-moving strategy game".
After this boot camp of gaming, the subjects were then subjected to tests designed by the researchers in order to gauge their ability to make snap decisions. Based on these "neural simulations", the researchers found that the action gamers were up to 25 percent faster at reaching conclusions while answering just as many questions correctly as those from the Sims 2 camp. In short, the action gamers were more likely to make the right decisions faster than their "slow moving strategy" brethren.
UR professor of brain and cognitive science Daphne Bavelier puts the findings into a perspective of research: the "augmented decision making capabilities" of action gamers are realized as they groom themselves to become more "efficient collectors of visual and auditory information" while gaming. Bavelier explains that people normally accumulate "small pieces of visual or auditory information" when posed with query in order to gather enough to make they will assume is a correct decision or course of action.
This calculating and refining of probabilities in the mind to reach all manner of decisions is what the study calls "probabilistic inference", and action gamers just happen to be well suited to arriving at "the necessary threshold of information they need to make a decision much faster than non gamers". Well, if they're any good at the shooters they may play, we would assume!
So count this as another shout out for gaming from the academia? It's not necessarily so awkward that action games could serve as a "training tool for quicker reactions". After all, one can always improve their game with practice, so the gates are open for anyone to train their brain to be a little quicker on the side. At the very least, it could lead to less people being so wishy washy when making a choice at the local fast food joint.