According to Gavriel Salomon, different media forms recruit, and develop, different cognitive processes. His seminal book, Interaction of Media, Cognition, and Learning, provides evidence for this premise. He demonstrates that repeated exposure to cinematic codes presented on film, such as the zoom technique, leads children to internalize these codes. In one experiment, eighth graders who watched a film that used repeated zooms achieved higher scores on a search task that required them to find details in a complex display. In fact, for eighth graders who earned low scores on a pre-test of the search task, viewing the film improved scores more than practicing the search task itself. Similarly, students who watched a film depicting the unfolding of a three-dimensional object significantly improved their scores on a test requiring identification of unfolded objects.23 Salomon's research also provides evidence that educational programs can enhance particular cognitive abilities. When Sesame Street was first introduced to Israel, school-aged children who watched the program improved on tests of attention and inference making. In a later experiment, second graders who watched the program for eight days in school performed better on measures of select cognitive skills than a control group who watched adventure or nature films.24
Daniel Anderson and Patricia Collins note, however, in a review of the effects of TV on cognitive development, that the benefits revealed by Salomon's studies are short-term, small, and specific to educational programs or instructional films.25Further, because Salomon's work suggests that internalization requires repeat, heavy exposure to particular media content, it is unclear to what extent cognitive skills would be enhanced in typical TV viewing environments.
Few studies have examined the links between television and spatial skills, and those that have are inconclusive.26 Analysts have conducted far more research on video games. These studies suggest that video games may positively affect a variety of visual spatial skills. Adult video game players, for example, have better hand-eye coordination than non-players.27 In one experimental study, spending fifteen minutes playing an Atari video game improved adults' performance (fifty milliseconds relative to controls) on a simple reaction time test.28 Children's previous video game experience has also been associated with shorter reaction times on color and shape discrimination and stimulus anticipation tasks.29
Several studies suggest that video game play may enhance spatial reasoning skills in youth.30 In one experiment, Patricia McClurg and Christine Chaille found that playing select computer games for five minutes, twice a week, for six weeks improved fifth, seventh, and ninth graders' performance on a paper and pencil mental-rotation task in which students view a three-dimensional target shape in one orientation and must indicate whether another shape is different or the same in a different orientation. In fact, fifth graders who had received the video game training scored higher than ninth graders who had not played the video games.31
Richard De Lisi and Jennifer Wolford found positive effects on spatial skills of playing the video game Tetris, which requires mental rotation. After eleven thirty -minute sessions of playing Tetris, third graders showed improved scores on a paper-and-pencil test of mental-rotation skills. Before the video game training, children in the control group, who played a game that required no mental rotation, and children in the experimental group earned similar scores; after training, the students who had played Tetris scored significantly higher than the control group. Only the experimental group received significantly higher scores on the test after training.32
A series of experiments by Shawn Green and Daphne Bevelier reveal that video game play yields improvements in several aspects of visual attention. Experienced adult gamers are able to track more items in an array of dynamic distractor items, to locate more quickly a briefly appearing target, and to process more efficiently an ongoing stream of information.33
In a recent analysis, Matthew Dye and Bevelier examined the relative visual attention skills of child gamers and non-gamers. Similar to the adult studies, the study found benefits of gaming for visual attention, including greater attentional capacity, quicker attention deployment, and faster processing.34
Not all video game training studies, however, have found improved spatial skills among players.35 In one study, adults trained on Tetris did not increase their mental-rotation scores more than controls, although advanced Tetris players did have superior mental-rotation skills, relative to Tetris novices. This finding, however, could be attributable to what social scientists call selection: individuals with superior mental rotation skills are more likely to play games like Tetris. A video game training experiment with seventh graders did not reveal improvements in spatial visualization, even though the same experiment improved spatial visualization skills in adults.36