Science Says Playing ‘Mario Kart’ Actually Makes You a Better Driver

Playing “Mario Kart” actually makes you a better driver, according to a recent university study.

Those hours you spent drifting your way through Rainbow Road may have paid off after all. A new study, published this month in the Psychological Science journal, confirms that certain video games enhance your real life motor skills.

Action-based video games were found to improve an individual’s visuomotor control, which involves processing incoming visual cues and translating them into muscle responses. Visuomotor skills are important for daily tasks that includes driving a car.

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In the study, researchers from New York University Shanghai and University of Hong Kong had participants play a variety of video games. Action-based video games such as Mario Kart and Call of Duty often require players to respond to visual cues while non-action based video games such as Roller Coaster Tycoon, involve players directing the action.

Several experiments were conducted with a pool of 80 participants that were made up of students and faculty from the University of Hong Kong.

For one experiment, individuals who have never played action-based video games were assigned to play Mario Kart or a first-person shooter game. Another group of people were assigned non-action video games to play.

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Subjects in both groups played their games for 10 one-hour sessions. In the end, researchers found that those who played action-based games experienced a significant increase in their visuomotor control skills. On the other hand, those who played non-action video games had no improvement whatsoever.

Li Li, a member of New York University Shanghai’s Neural Science Program and lead author of the study,  concluded:

“Our research shows that playing easily accessible action video games for as little as 5 hours can be a cost-effective tool to help people improve essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving.”

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In a separate experiment, researchers placed experienced and inexperienced gamers in a driving simulation test. Gamers are considered experienced if they played a minimum of five hours of action-based video games a week.

What they found was that experienced gamers were better at controlling virtual cars in a driving simulation test than inexperienced gamers. More surprisingly, the fact that certain participants were licensed drivers had no effect on the study’s outcome.

Of the 80 subjects, only 14 individuals had their driver’s license. Li Li, the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post:

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“We found that the improvement observed in participants who had driver licenses was similar to those who did not.”

Playing first-person shooting games may even be more beneficial than actual driving games for improving visuomotor skills among drivers. The study found that shooting games helps individuals become better defensive drives by honing their ability to predict “input error signals.” That is because shooting games “require players to constantly make predictions about both where and when bullets will most likely hit.”

However, Li advised that different video games may be more effective in improving motor skills depending on the gamer’s level of experience :

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The differing effects of driving and FPS (first-person shooter) video games on the sensorimotor system suggest that for experienced drivers, who have stable control but need to improve their ability to predict input error signals, training with FPS rather than driving video games is more effective. In contrast, for novice drivers, who are still struggling with obtaining stable control, training with driving rather than FPS video games is more helpful.”

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