Enumeration versus multiple object tracking: the case of action video game players

Cognition. 2006 Aug;101(1):217-45. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2005.10.004. Epub 2005 Dec 15.


Here, we demonstrate that action video game play enhances subjects' ability in two tasks thought to indicate the number of items that can be apprehended. Using an enumeration task, in which participants have to determine the number of quickly flashed squares, accuracy measures showed a near ceiling performance for low numerosities and a sharp drop in performance once a critical number of squares was reached. Importantly, this critical number was higher by about two items in video game players (VGPs) than in non-video game players (NVGPs). A following control study indicated that this improvement was not due to an enhanced ability to instantly apprehend the numerosity of the display, a process known as subitizing, but rather due to an enhancement in the slower more serial process of counting. To confirm that video game play facilitates the processing of multiple objects at once, we compared VGPs and NVGPs on the multiple object tracking task (MOT), which requires the allocation of attention to several items over time. VGPs were able to successfully track approximately two more items than NVGPs. Furthermore, NVGPs trained on an action video game established the causal effect of game playing in the enhanced performance on the two tasks. Together, these studies confirm the view that playing action video games enhances the number of objects that can be apprehended and suggest that this enhancement is mediated by changes in visual short-term memory skills.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Awareness*
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Reaction Time
  • Video Games*
  • Visual Perception*