Professor examines video games in book

By Megan Kutulis
January 29, 2009

Ask any college student how they feel about video games, and the first words you hear probably won’t be “stimulating” or “mental rotation.” But in a new study published by Cabrini psychology professor Dr. Melissa Terlecki, video games mean more than an afternoon of putting off homework.

In her recently published book “The Effects of Long-Term Practice and Training on Mental Rotation,” Terlecki chronicles the effect that repeated video game playing had on mental rotation.

The study, which also hoped to study the relationship between gender differences and mental rotation, was part of Terlecki’s doctorate work.

Mental rotation, in a simpler definition, is the ability to rotate objects in the mind.

“Closing your eyes and picturing an object upside down-that’s mental rotation, even more simply like if you picture like what an outfit will look like, how things will look together,” Terlecki said.

Although mental rotation might sound like it’s only used for puzzles, or, apparently, the perfect outfit, Terlecki’s study put the cognitive skill to work when she chose a group of participants to play Tetris, the classic video game that involves the flipping of objects to fit correctly into empty spaces.

“I never really thought of Tetris as more than a game I have on my cell phone to keep me occupied.

It’s a fun video game, but I’m surprised that there’s actually an entire process that goes into flipping those objects,” Corinne Grasso, junior English major, said.

Like Grasso, the participants in the study were college-aged. To begin the study, Terlecki and other observers gathered the group of players and a control group who did not play the games, whose mental rotation wouldn’t be used as often as the first groups. The gender neutral video game was also chosen so that gender differences could be accurately studied.

“We wanted to look at gender differences too, because men tend to be better at mental rotation than women. And there are a lot of reasons why-there are biological reasons and environmental reasons why,” Terlecki said.

Participants played Tetris for 12-14 weeks for one hour per week. Throughout the semester, Terlecki noticed an improvement in the mental rotation of both the male and female participants.

“We saw an improvement in both the male and female players. I wasn’t really surprised because any kind of spatial game like that where you have to think of the position of an object before it happens, it involves some type of mental rotation,” Terlecki said.

“I think it’s kind of cool to know that while you’re playing Tetris, you’re also using mental rotation because it’s something you really don’t think about at all-I always kind of pictured it as this, like, mindless fun game, but it’s interesting to learn it’s more than that,” Grasso said.

Although the results came from studying strictly college students, Terlecki hopes the results are generalized, and that mental rotation would improve under other circumstances as well, no matter what age or gender.

Megan Kutulis

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