If your kids want a Wii, PlayStation or Xbox 360 this holiday season, you may actually have good reason to give them one; it turns out there is some redeeming value in the hours that kids spend transfixed by these video game systems.  A new study in Current Directions in Psychological Science reports that regular gamers are fast and accurate information processors, not only during game play, but in real-life situations as well.

Psychological scientists from the University of Rochester, Matthew Dye, Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier, looked at all of the existing literature on video gaming and found some surprising insights in the data. For example, they found that avid players got faster not only on their game of choice, but on a variety of unrelated laboratory tests of reaction time.

Many skeptics agree that gamers are fast, but that they become less accurate as their speed of play increases. Dye and colleagues find the opposite: Gamers don't lose accuracy (in the game or in lab tests) as they get faster. The scientists believe that this is a result of the gamer's improved visual cognition. Playing video games enhances performance on mental rotation skills, visual and spatial memory, and tasks requiring divided attention.

The scientists conclude that training with video games may serve to reduce gender differences in visual and spatial processing, and thwart some of the cognitive declines that come with aging.

Citation: Matthew W.G. Dye, C. Shawn Green, Daphne Bavelier, 'Increasing Speed of Processing With Action Video Games : Processing Speed and Video Games' Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2009; 18 (6): 321 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01660.x.