Study: A day of video games tops a year of therapy for dyslexic readers

Video games - an image from "Super Mario Galaxy 2" is shown - are found in a new study to have positive effects on young dyslexic readers.
(Nintendo of America Inc. / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Playing action video games could help dyslexic children read faster, a new study suggests.

Neuroscientists from the University of Padua in Italy tested the reading ability of two groups of 10-year-olds after one group had played action video games and the other played non-action video games.


According to the study, published Thursday in Current Biology, playing fast-paced video games helped improve dyslexic children’s reading speed more than a year of intense, traditional therapies could. The improvements did not fade with time either, researchers found.

Each group was composed of 10 children who played 80 minutes of video games a day for nine days, equaling 12 hours of play per child.

Their reading skills were measured on a number of factors, including how fast they read words and how accurately they read them. Some words were called pseudo words, meaning they’re not actual words in the English language but letters put together that can be read phonetically. For example, the word “dake” would be read like “cake.”

Scientists aimed to prove there’s a correlation between a dyslexic child’s visual attention span and their ability to read.

Action video games are distinguished from non-action video games “by such characteristics as game speed, a high sensory-motor load, and presentation of multiple, peripheral stimuli,” the authors wrote. “Action video game players constantly receive both external and internal feedback on their performance, producing learning.”

It turned out their assumptions were correct.

Action video game players trounced their non-action peers in improvements. Only action game kids showed general reading improvements, up to 40%. They cut their reading speed almost in half, while non-action readers showed no improvement. The action gamers also improved their basic text reading by as much as 60%, while non-action gamers showed a more modest 5%-10% gain.

Though more study is needed to nail down the specific role that action games play in the improvements, the researchers claimed their data is the start.

“Our findings – supported by results showing that attention can be studied and efficiently trained during infancy – pave the way for low-resource-demanding early prevention programs that could drastically reduce the incident of reading disorders,” the authors concluded.

Another study released this week showed playing on a Nintendo Wii helped hone surgery skills.

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