Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, CA, 92617, USA.
We investigated the psychophysical and neurophysiological differences between fast-action video game players (specifically first person shooter players, FPS) and non-action players (role-playing game players, RPG) in a visual search task. We measured both successful detections (hit rates) and steady-state visually evoked EEG potentials (SSVEPs). Search difficulty was varied along two dimensions: number of adjacent attended and ignored regions (1, 2 and 4), and presentation rate of novel search arrays (3, 8.6 and 20 Hz). Hit rates decreased with increasing presentation rates and number of regions, with the FPS players performing on average better than the RPG players. The largest differences in hit rate, between groups, occurred when four regions were simultaneously attended. We computed signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of SSVEPs and used partial least squares regression to model hit rates, SNRs and their relationship at 3 Hz and 8.6 Hz. The following are the most significant results: RPG players' parietal responses to the attended 8.6 Hz flicker were predictive of hit rate and were positively correlated with it, indicating attentional signal enhancement. FPS players' parietal responses to the ignored 3 Hz flicker were predictive of hit rate and were positively correlated with it, indicating distractor suppression. Consistent with these parietal responses, RPG players' frontal responses to the attended 8.6 Hz flicker, increased as task difficulty increased with number of regions; FPS players' frontal responses to the ignored 3 Hz flicker increased with number of regions. Thus the FPS players appear to employ an active suppression mechanism to deploy selective attention simultaneously to multiple interleaved regions, while RPG primarily use signal enhancement. These results suggest that fast-action gaming can affect neural strategies and the corresponding networks underlying attention, presumably by training mechanisms of distractor suppression.