Video games have earned a bad reputation amid claims that they promote violence and make children lazy. But new research reveals that video games can actually be a good training tool for both adults and children, if used properly.

According to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, just 12 hours of playing action video games can significantly improve the reading ability of children with dyslexia. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, about 15 percent of Americans have dyslexia, a “language processing disorder [that] can hinder reading, writing, spelling, and sometimes even speaking.”

The cause of dyslexia is unknown and current treatments are costly and are not always effective, the study authors wrote.

"Action video games enhance many aspects of visual attention, mainly improving the extraction of information from the environment," said study co-author Andrea Facoetti of the University of Padua in Italy in a press release. "Dyslexic children learned to orient and focus their attention more efficiently to extract the relevant information of a written word more rapidly."

Taking Action to Treat Dyslexia

Based on prior research that linked attention deficits to dyslexia, Facoetti's team, which included researcher Simone Gori, “tested the reading, phonological, and attention skills of two groups of children with dyslexia before and after they played action or non-action video games for nine 80-minute sessions,” according to a press release.  Results showed that the action video gamers read faster and more accurately than the non-action game players.

Gori said this may be because action video games selectively train the magnocellular-dorsal pathway, a brain circuit related to attention and motion perception. Because a deficit in this brain pathway is often associated with dyslexia, the children who played action video games improved their attention skills, which translated into improved reading abilities. The non-action video games did not hone children's attention skills and consequently did not increase reading ability.

“It’s important to recognize differences between types of video game playing,” Gori said in an interview with Healthline. “Our results are a striking demonstration that the outcome of video game playing does not depend on the fact that a video game is being played, but is instead thoroughly dependent on the processing demands inherent in the exact game experience. Simply put, not all games are created equal when it comes to altering human perception and cognition.”

Gori and his colleagues are already treating children at risk for dyslexia with video games designed to reduce the likelihood that they will become dyslexic. The researchers have also begun to investigate how this form of treatment might help children with other disorders related to attention deficits, such as dyscalculia, ADHD, and Specific Language Impairment.

Surgeons Play Video Games Too

Dyslexia research isn’t the only place video games are making an impact. According to a recent study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, surgeons who play games on the Nintendo® Wii can improve their surgical performance.

The study focused on surgeons performing laparoscopic procedures, a type of surgery in which an incision is made in the abdomen and a viewing tube, or laparoscope, is inserted into the belly complete with a camera. The surgeon uses images on the video feed to guide his surgical tools from outside the patient's body.

Previous research has shown that playing video games can improve hand-eye coordination and spatial attention. Researchers in this study rated surgeons laparoscopic skills over the course of a four-week training program. Participants were divided into two groups: one group trained on the Nintendo® Wii and the other group trained without the use of video games.

According the study authors, surgeons who trained on the Wii showed a significant improvement in performance on several metrics, such as economy of instrument movements and efficient cauterization.

“The Nintendo® Wii might be a helpful, inexpensive, and entertaining part of the training of young laparoscopists, in addition to a standard surgical education based on simulators and the operating room,” study authors concluded.

Learn More: