Gaming makes women smarter?

Hours of video game play improves women's spatial abilties, says a new study.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published October 5, 2007 6:18PM (EDT)

Girls, are you sick of boys' superior spatial skills? If so, just plant yourself in front of a video game for, say, 10 hours and you'll be prepared for a career in math, science or engineering!

A new study out of the University of Toronto found that video game play improves women's spatial ability. Lead researcher Jing Feng told Medical News Today: "Our first experiment discovered a previously unknown sex difference in spatial attention. On average, women are not quite as good at rapidly switching attention among different objects and this may be one reason why women do not do as well on spatial tasks. But more important than finding that difference, our second experiment showed that both men and women can improve their spatial skills by playing a video game and that the women catch up to the men."

To keep things in perspective, let's take a look at the study's specifics: The first experiment, which established a difference between the sexes in spatial attention, involved 48 undergraduates at the University of Toronto. Researchers found that regular video game players had spatial ability far superior to that of nongamers. Men successfully completed spatial challenges 71 percent of the time, while women had a 64 percent success rate. So the researchers decided to embark on another experiment in an attempt to determine whether "the gender difference in spatial selective attention could be modified by training with a video game."

The second experiment featured only 20 undergraduates -- six men and 14 women. After 10 hours of playing video games, the women's spatial ability was statistically indistinguishable from the men's. Women also benefited more from the game play -- their success rate leapt from 55 percent to 72 percent, while men's grew from 68 percent to 78 percent. Professor Ian Spence, one of the study's researchers, believes this could be key in "helping to attract more women to the mathematical sciences and engineering."

Given the small sample size, I'm not exactly comfortable concluding that gaming is the answer to improving the gender balance in spatially oriented careers. Not to mention, I never assumed the dearth of women in those fields was a result of their relative lack of spatial ability. But even if we were to assume that the researchers' conclusion is correct, that presents a whole new problem: the games being marketed toward girls. It's safe to say that Ubisoft's new vomitous line of games for girls -- "Babyz," "Fashion Designer," "Happy Cooking" and "Animal Doctor" -- presumably prepares girls for very different fields of work.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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