Mom may not buy this when you tell her, but it's true: new research out of the University of California, Riverside, suggests that playing a certain video game can help you see better and even make you a better baseball player.
"The key is that [the game] improves how the brain processes the information that it receives from the eye and in turn leads to better vision," says Aaron Seitz, one of the researchers. "Baseball is a highly visual sport, where players need to make split-second decisions based upon very little visual information. Even a small improvement in vision can give a player a needed competitive edge."
In the study, published in the journal Current Biology, researchers compared two groups of UC Riverside baseball players—19 who played vision-training video games on a computer or iPad (the "Trained" group), and 18 who undertook no supplementary training (the "Untrained" group). Both groups had their eyesight tested before and after the experiment.
Tests prior to the computer game intervention showed no major differences in the eyesight of the Trained and Untrained players. After two months of training, however, major differences were apparent—most notably, the Trained group notched a 31 percent improvement in their visual acuity. Some players' eyesight improved to 20/7.5, meaning they could see things 20 feet away with the same clarity that an average person could see at seven and a half feet.
After the intervention, the Trained players reported “seeing the ball much better,” having “greater peripheral vision" and feeling like it was “easy to see further." They also said their “eyes feel stronger, they don’t get tired as much." Their play on the field also improved.
Of the 19 players involved in the original test, 11 played on the team the next season. Those players reduced their year-over-year strikeout percentage from 22.1 percent to 17.7 percent of their plate appearances, a much larger reduction than the average for the rest of the league (16 percent to 15.4 percent). The 11 Trained players also improved in the category of Runs Created (RC), defined as a “statistic that includes key components of both on-base and slugging percentage as a measure of overall batting performance." The Trained players increased their RC per out from .140 to .188, compared to the league average for improvement of .140 to .151.
The improvement in RC correlated to approximately 42 more runs scored for the season. Applying Bill James’s “Pythagorean Theory Of Baseball” to estimate the number of wins and losses that resulted from the team's increased RC, the researchers came up with 21.2 wins and 32.8 losses—very close to the team’s actual record of 22 wins and 32 losses in the 2012 season.
Had the players not completed the computer screen intervention, their RC would probably have been closer to the league average of .151. Using the same model, researchers estimated that, without the training, the team would have netted approximately five fewer wins during the season.
"The exciting thing is that this type of training has potential to help pretty much everyone in the world," says Seitz. "We've worked with the Los Angeles Police Department and are starting a collaboration with the Riverside Police Department to address specialized vision need of these populations. Other [kinds of] athletes can benefit, [too]."