The Impact of Urgency in Videogames on Reaction Time
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
THIELE, J. E. (2007). The Impact of Urgency in Videogames on Reaction Time. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 10. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Impact of Urgency in Videogames on Reaction Time

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
In attempting to find if urgency of a videogame has any factor in the improvement of reaction time gained by playing videogames 30 students from the Missouri Western State University Introductory Psychology courses were placed into urgent videogame, non-urgent videogame, and control groups at random and then tested for reaction time. An analysis of variance showed no significant difference between any of the groups. However, there is a chance that the lack of a significant difference was due to other factors not controlled for in this experiment, such as age, prior experience with videogames, and the game used in the experiment.

Despite all of the negative publicity directed towards videogames, there are some definite benefits to playing videogames, such as improving reaction time. This effect can be seen with extended practice, and has been considered as a possible way to improve the motor skills of elderly persons (Clark, Lanphear, & Riddick, 1987; Dustman, Emmerson, Steinhaus, Shearer, & Dustman, 1992). In Clark et al., the subjects in the experimental condition played videogames for 2 hours each week for 7 weeks, resulting in a significant improvement, with the control group showing no considerable change. In Dustman et al., experimental subjects played videogames for 3 hours each week for 11 weeks, also producing a significant improvement compared to both the control group and an additional group that viewed movies each week, acting possibly as an additional form of stimulation. However, the improvement in reaction time was the only significant effect of playing videogames on cognition, suggesting that other activities that enhance cognition should still be pursued. Duration of the effect from videogame practice is not limited in effect to the elderly, as is evidenced in a study of kindergarten children (Yuji, 1996). In this study, children were divided into three groups based on whether they played games often or not. The children who had played videogames more often showed greatly improved reaction times. This study also found that reaction time was not significantly affected by changes or similarities in colors of a stimulus, leading me to believe that using multiple colors in a simple reaction time test should not have any major effect on its results. What seems even more important is that videogames can reduce reaction time even after a single session of play (Orosy-Fildes & Allan, 1989). The subjects in the experimental condition showed an extremely significant improvement in reaction time after as little as 15 minutes of game play. The control group, meanwhile, showed no significant improvement. The explanation for why videogames improve reaction time seems rather limited. Aside from practice effects resulting from familiarity of the game or exercises of manual dexterity (Yuji, 1996; Orosy-Fildes & Allan, 1989), the reason why videogames have this effect seems largely speculative. And, while I will agree that the aforementioned practice effects are significant components, I suspect that there might be another key point to explaining this effect. Primarily, I suspect that urgency might be connected with this, as many videogames, including those used in Clark et al., Orosy-Fildes & Allan, and Dustman et al. (1987, 1989, 1992), are set in circumstances where a quick response is necessary. It is also established that the urgency of a situation decreases reaction time, and can be described as a physiological function (Reddi & Carpenter, 2000; Reddi, Asrress, & Carpenter, 2003). In these studies, reaction time can be described as the difference between the threshold of stimulation that produces a decision (T), or response, and the initial amount of stimulation (S), divided by the rate of rise of the stimulation (r), or (T-S)/r. This relationship is known as the LATER (linear approach to threshold with ergodic rate) model, which, along with the experimental data presented by Reddi & Carpenter and Reddi et al., predicts that urgency reduces the reaction time of eye movements by reducing . While simple reaction time in this experiment isn’t going to be measured by rapidity of eye movement, the fact that a physiological relationship like this exists would imply that such operations of reaction time can be correctly generalized to all forms of response. Overall, there is much evidence that both videogame play and urgency of a given scenario can improve ones reaction time. However, there is little empirical research concerning any possible connections between the two, despite how most videogames that have been implemented in such experiments involve urgent circumstances. Therefore, I must propose the possibility that videogames with an urgent goal will produce faster reaction times than videogames without urgency, as improvement in general has been well established.


For the purposes of this experiment, 30 subjects, 15 men and 15 women, from the Missouri Western State University PSY 101 and PSY 200 classes were tested, most of whom were assumed to be around traditional college age. Participation was voluntary, with course credit being offered by the instructor to subjects as the instructor sees fit. All subjects were also offered the final results of the experiment, with the stipulation that the information supplied does not include that of a specific individual in this study. Subjects were asked to sign up for time slots through WebCT, so as to keep all particular qualities of the subjects confidential, though some subjects were admitted toward the end through a sign-up sheet kept separate from the testing resources. The list of persons that accepted the offer to receive information after the experiments conclusion was also kept separate from the actual experimental data. Subjects were assigned randomly to the experimental conditions, with no attempts to control for gender. After the trials had been completed, each subject was informed about the purpose of this study and was allowed to ask any questions they felt were necessary.

Subjects in the experimental groups used a school computer to complete jigsaw puzzles from the website Subjects in the control group read volumes of “Electronics Gaming Monthly©” and “Computer Gaming World©” from between 2004 and 2005. Time spent was monitored with a wristwatch. Reaction time testing was done with a Lafayette Instruments© Multi-Choice Reaction Timer, Model Number 63014, connected with the Response Keyboard with Stimulus Unit. All times was recorded on a data sheet corresponding to the subject and marked by subject number. The Blue, Red, and Green light stimuli was used, with the Blue light corresponding to the left key, the Red light to the middle key, and the Green light to the right key.

Subjects were tested individually. Each subject was placed into one of three treatment groups for 15 minutes. The control group was asked to read through various videogame articles if they were so inclined. The two experimental groups were asked to solve jigsaw puzzles at the “Classic” level, with one group, the “urgent” group, being told to solve at least two puzzles in 15 minutes, and the other group, the “non-urgent” group, being told to solve the puzzles at whatever rate they found the most comfortable. After 15 minutes had passed, subjects from all groups completed a simple reaction time test, with five practice trials followed by 20 actual trials. Blue, Red, and Green lights were used in the reaction time test, with each color corresponding to one of the three keys on the response keyboard as mentioned in the materials. Subjects were told which key corresponds to which color stimulus during a brief instruction period, before experiencing the five practice trials. Time between all trials was held approximately constant at 10 seconds, with the time between initial warning and stimulus presentation being anywhere between 1 and 4 seconds, inclusive. The pattern of colors and time delays differed between subjects, following one of five randomly-generated patterns, each including 5 stimuli of each possible delay time and either 6 or 7 of each stimulus color. Subjects were told to retry a given trial in the event that a key press did not register on the apparatus. The use of a pretest-posttest method is considered unnecessary, as reaction time has generally been established to not change for control subjects, which were included in this study.

Out of the data collected from 30 subjects, 6 sets of subject data, 2 from each test group, were discarded due to data corruption. The two highest and two lowest scores were removed for each subject, with the remaining 16 scores being averaged for each subject. The subject averages were tested with an analysis of variance. There was no significant difference shown among any of the test groups (control M=.751, SD=.132; urgent M=.717, SD=.140; non-urgent M=.743, SD=.085; F(2,23)=.176, p=.84), thus making any further analysis unnecessary.

I originally hypothesized that the group that played through the puzzle in a more urgent condition would do significantly better than either the control group or the non-urgent condition players. The data that I have collected do not support my hypothesis, as there was no significant difference among any of the groups that I have tested, despite the difference between reaction times found in previous studies for subjects that played videogames and subjects that did not play video games (Clark et al. 1987; Dustman et al. 1992; Orosy-Fildes & Allan, 1989; Yuji, 1996). However, it should be noted that, although the difference was not significant, the urgent group did show a faster average reaction time than the other two groups. It should also be mentioned that the variance for the non-urgent group was very small compared to the other two groups (control s2=.017, urgent s2=.020, non-urgent s2=.007), though the implications of this data point are not fully understood as of now. While these results do not support my hypothesis, I am not entirely sure if I should completely abandon the possibility that my hypothesis might be correct. The fact that a difference of any type, significant or not, appeared tells me that there might be some truth to this. The fact that there was no significant difference may be attributable to the use of a jigsaw puzzle, as opposed to using a game that does not have a similar form in terms of a tangible product, such as Tetris© or Bejeweled©. The use of a form of game that is by nature not urgent itself was likely a big factor in the results, and something that should not be repeated. There is also a possibility that subjects with more experience with videogames may have naturally produced faster results, or subjects with no such experience naturally producing slower results, as prior experience was not recorded. Age might also have been a factor, because while the majority of all tested subjects appeared to be of traditional college age, their actual ages were never recorded, and while a couple of years of difference might not account for much, it is still important enough to be brought under consideration. I would highly suggest that this experiment be repeated, only with the use of a videogame more similar to what is generally available and capable of having any sense of urgency adjusted. This research may have useful implications, as it may provide an idea about why videogames enhance reaction time, including if non-urgent game-like activities, such as virtual communities like Habbo Hotel© or Gaia Online©, can provide these benefits, as well as supply useful data to the use of videogame training modules for the military or other potentially hazardous vocations. It may also provide insight to other effects that videogames may have on human behavior.

Clark, J. E., Lanphear, A. K., & Riddick, C. C. (1987). The effects of videogame playing on the response selection processing of elderly adults. Journals of Gerontology, 42, 82-85.Dustman, R. E., Emmerson, R. Y., Steinhaus, L. A., Shearer, D. E., & Dustman, T. J. (1992). The effects of videogame playing on neuropsychological performance of elderly individuals. Journal of Gerontology, 47, 168-171.Orosy-Fildes, C. & Allan, R. W. (1989). Psychology of computer use: XII. Videogame play: Human reaction time to visual stimuli. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 69, 243-247.Reddi, B. A. J. & Carpenter, R. H. S. (2000). The influence of urgency on decision time. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 827-830.Reddi, B. A. J., Asrress, K. N., & Carpenter, R. H. S. (2003). Accuracy, information, and response time in a saccadic decision task. Journal of Neurophysiology, 90, 3538-3545.Yuji, H. (1996). Computer games and information-processing skills. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 83, 643-647.

Submitted 4/26/2007 12:45:37 PM
Last Edited 8/7/2008 11:29:17 AM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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