Feng et al Article Summary

Posted by on July 9, 2011

A widely accepted folk psychological view has been that spatial attention capacity differs between genders.  The authors state that it is important for the scientific community to test this folk psychological hypothesis, and more importantly discover if the gender difference can be reduced or altogether eliminated.  Such an investigation of the folk psychological view is warranted because such views have sociological impact in the real world.  In this article I will present the authors’ views that playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition.

There are several higher and lower level tasks in spatial cognition, with spatial attention being one of the lower ones that is involved in mental rotation, a higher level task.  The authors suggest several studies which conclude that the ability to shift attention is probably highly important for greater mental rotation task performance.  In fact, further studies show that improved performance in several different high-level spatial tasks has been associated with playing video games.  This could very possibly be the reason for the gender differences in adult spatial cognition.  The authors suggest that since spatial attentional capacity is vital to visual cognition, those video game players that develop advanced capacities in this area by playing first person shooter games may also experience advancement in their higher-level spatial cognition.  Since women do not generally play these games, they do not gain experience from it and so do not gain higher level spatial cognition capacities in comparison to males that on average tend to play these games more.

There were two experiments conducted by the authors. The first experiment sought to examine the differences in spatial attention for groups in terms of gender, experience in playing video games, etc.  The second experiment compared the spatial attention in genders before and after ten hours of action video game training.  From the first experiment it was verified that there does exist difference between males and females in spatial selective attention, while the second experiment showed that everyone who played the games improved substantially.  Also the second experiment tested performance of higher level spatial abilities through a MRT (mental rotation test), and they found that with the ten hour training an increase in spatial attentional abilities consequently increased MRT performance and gender difference was substantially reduced.  The fact that the control groups in both of these experiments remained approximately constant in performance verifies the results of these tests.

The authors’ state that what separates their studies from others is not the increased MRT performance ability; rather it is the paralleled increase in lower level spatial capabilities, as well as the fact that females developed greater gains in both capabilities.  The paralleled increase in MRT and lower level spatial capabilities verifies the authors’ assumption that MRT performance at least slightly relies on lower level spatial abilities.  Lastly, some of the other studies believed they found that video-game practice had little or no effect on MRT performance, implying that in order for a person to experience increased capabilities in certain spatial tasks, they must already have a basic level of them.   The authors’ believe their studies find conclusions to the contrary, since the group that played action video games did gain in MRT performance.  The control group for the experiment confirms this, because only those playing the non-action video games were the ones to not gain significantly in MRT performance, while those playing action video games were.

Also, a follow up experiment was performed on the participants from the second experiment to determine whether the enhanced higher level spatial capabilities were temporary due to the ten hours of practice, or if they were long term.  If determined to be long term, the study’s conclusions could have practical implications, and the authors believe their experiment proves the enhanced spatial abilities are long term.  This is important because employment in engineering and science is related to higher spatial capabilities, and females generally do not score as high as men in the tests of these subject areas.  While there is a strong connection between MRT performance and success in mathematical and engineering sciences neither one influences the other, but lower level cognitive abilities are essential to both; so, the implications of this study are that it is possible to increase at least lower level capabilities through playing action video games, and the gain could be significantly high for women.  Since the effects are long lasting, it could possibly mean that by playing more and more action video games the possibilities are enormous for large gains in lower level cognitive abilities and the simultaneous gain in higher level spatial capabilities.

All of this research is very exciting, and it could consequently illuminate unique ways to minimize gender differences, and bring us closer to social equality in the workforce.  Though, I am critical of the authors’ final claims that immense increase of playing action video games could mean even more significant increase in cognitive capabilities, because their study did not test for this.  In order for us to see this, another experiment needs to be setup with a control group of those play non-action video games, those playing 10 hours of action video games, those playing several days of action video games, etc.  It could very well be that soon after the ten hours of action video game playing, a maximum is reached of the amount they could increase cognitive capabilities.

Through this paper I have discussed the study done by Feng et al, and discussed the possibilities of reducing gender difference in spatial abilities.  The experiments show a direct correlation in increase in lower level cognitive capability and higher level.

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