Have videos games helped kids gain better understanding of stochastic processes?

dice 20 sided by C. G. P. Grey

Gamers make faster decisions than nongamers, are just as accurate
[Via Ars Technica]

There’s a significant controversy over the value of games that are designed to improve people’s mental faculties, as some studies have indicated that brain training only helps prepare you for similar tasks, while others indicate that general improvements are possible. But there turns out to be a type of game that is known to boost a variety of skills, from decision making to tracking multiple objects: standard action games. A study, released today by Current Biology attempts to explain how these video games can produce such wide-ranging improvements.

The authors of the study argue that the root of all these tasks involves making a probabilistic inference, where complete information is missing, so people have to make a best guess based on known odds. Video gaming, in their view, increases the efficiency at which people can process the odds and make an accurate decision—gamers simply can do more with less. As a result, any task of this sort sees benefits.


Humans do lousy when it comes to intuitively dealing with probability. That is why casinos thrive.

Many complex processes, including almost all of biology, deal with stochastic processes. Even if two sets of experiments are started from the same initial conditions, stochastic processes can result in very different outcomes.

Think of a Rube Goldberg machine. If we turn the crank, it starts the process whichwill eventually trap the mouse. The same thing happens every time. But what happens if the first step only works 80% of the time? It becomes a stochastic event.

I did my post doc in a chemistry lab and saw, with envy sometimes, what a deterministic approach was like. If you followed the procedure correctly, you should always get say 95% yield. If not, it was because you did something wrong, not because of something intrinsic to the process.

Biology is very different. Two mice with the exact same genetic complement can react very differently to all sorts of stimuli. Because of stochastic processes, twins or clones, while will have some real differences.

It would be fascinating video games, which are often based on many stochastic events has helped people gain a more tacit understanding of probability.

Because so many of the complex problems we deal with today include stochastic processes. Being able to make good decisions based in incomplete information while dealing with stochastic processes will be a huge advantage in the coming years.

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