ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (1): 127-144.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00127

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Cognitive neural characteristics of professional action video game players

MIAO Haofei, CHI Lizhong()   

  1. School of Psychology, Beijing Sport University, Beijing 100084, China
  • Received:2021-12-02 Online:2023-01-15 Published:2022-10-13
  • Contact: CHI Lizhong


Action video games (AVG) are probably one of the most popular and mentally challenging games in e-sports. The skill profile of AVG's professional players is unclear. The professional players and players ranked in the top 7% of their games were both of the professionals in this review. The cross-sectional studies incorporating professionals compared to non-professional players and the intervention studies with AVG were searched to analyze the cognitive and neural characteristics of professionals. According to the selected studies, professional action video game players had faster selective attention, better sustained attention and multiple-object tracking performance. Professional players also had better working memory capacity. In particular, the spatial working memory capacity advantage was prominent. In addition, the professionals were less susceptible to the attentional blink effect. However, the current findings for professional players in attentional inhibition and mental flexibility were inconclusive. A little evidence showed potential advantages for action video game players in terms of mathematical and reasoning abilities.

The better attentional performance of the professionals may be related to the higher P3 amplitude of event-related potential (ERP). The working memory capacity of the professionals was associated with plastic changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right posterior parietal cortex. These plastic changes may be the neurological features that are linked to their excellent visuospatial abilities. The ERP results also revealed that the differences in the contralateral delay activity (CDA) component between professionals and amateurs, suggesting that the professionals had better working memory capacity. In addition, professionals also had enhanced resting-state intra-network functional connectivity of the Central Executive Network. And the enhanced inter-network functional connectivity between the Central Executive Network and Salience Network in professionals reflected the advantages of professionals in information integration.

According to the intervention studies with AVG, the attention and working memory capabilities, as well as mathematical skills can be improved by AVG training. The mechanism of improvement may be that the AVG play did not teach any one particular skill but instead increases the ability to extract patterns or regularities in the environment. This enhanced learning capability was termed learning to learn. However, the overall duration of game training in intervention studies tended to be less than 30 days. Accordingly, the degree of cognitive promotion from AVG training is not enough to bridge the cognitive gap between professional players and novices.

In terms of the prediction of game performance by cognitive ability, the relatively basic cognitive abilities such as attention and working memory have low predictive power for the player’s game performance. Any kind of cognitive ability could only explain less than 10% of the variance of player’s rankings. In traditional sports, sports-specific tasks refer to tests that include information about sports scenarios. And there was a greater discriminating effect for sport-specific task compared to general ones. The cognitive tests in AVG did not incorporate information from game scenarios which still stayed on general cognitive tests. What’s more, decision-making ability test is a good way to distinguish the level of players. The weak predictive power in AVG may be limited by the lack of research on decision making or the anticipation task. Therefore, these relatively basic cognitive abilities did not distinguish or predict the player’s game performance very well. Whether they were specific cognitive tests or decision making tests, they contained information about real-life sports scenarios. This real-world information in the sports scene is essentially Chunking or patterns. And it was these patterns that experts hold. Chunking theory may explain the phenomenon of the low predictive power of game performance by cognitive abilities. That is, the player's long-term memory of the game lineup, the spatial position of the characters in the game confrontation, etc. The abundant chunking of game confrontation reserved in the long-term memory is the more important cognitive feature of professionals. The basic cognitive ability may not be as important to the player's game performance as the player's chunking reserved in long-term memory. In the future, we can extend the cognitive studies of the decision-making, chunking or patterns recognizing based on the spatial location of characters.

Key words: e-sports, action video games, professional players, cognitive characteristics, neural characteristics

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