April 4, 2011
Large Hadron Collider May Only Be Months Away from Finding a New Elementary Particle

(via Wired) The studies focus on the top quark, the heaviest of the six quarks, which are the fundamental building blocks of nature. Top quarks appear to behave badly when they are produced during proton-antiproton collisions at a lower-energy particle accelerator, the Fermilab’s Tevatron in Batavia, Illinois.

Compared with what the standard model of particle physics predicts, these quarks fly off too often in the direction of the proton beam and not enough in the antiproton direction.

The Tevatron finding was first reported in 2008, but the results could have been due to chance. A recent report, using additional data, boosts confidence in the result, says Dan Amidei of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a member of the Tevatron’s CDF experiment. For energies above 450 billion electron volts, 45 percent of the top quarks travel along the path of the proton beam, while only 9 percent are expected to do so, Amidei and colleagues reported online January 3 at arXiv.org. The team reported additional evidence online March 10 of the top quark’s puzzling directional preference, after examining the paths of quarks generated by a different set of particle interactions.

There’s only about a 0.07 percent chance that the top quark’s apparent directional preference is a fluke, Amidei notes. Although that percentage still doesn’t meet the threshold for what physicists consider proof, the Tevatron’s other experiment, DZero, has recently found hints of the same asymmetry, using different data and techniques.

Assuming the effect is real, the directional preference suggests the existence of a new elementary particle, not predicted by the standard model. The particle could be the messenger of a new type of force that interacts with top quarks — along with their antiparticles — in such a way as to cause the asymmetry.

April 4, 2011
Scientists Grow Human Heart using Stem Cells, Breakthrough for Transplant Tech

(via DailyMail) Scientists are growing human hearts in laboratories, offering hope for millions of cardiac patients.

American researchers believe the artificial organs could start beating within weeks.

The experiment is a major step towards the first ‘grow-your-own’ heart, and could pave the way for  livers, lungs or kidneys to be made  to order.

The organs were created by removing muscle cells from donor organs to leave behind tough hearts of connective tissue.

Researchers then injected stem cells which multiplied and grew around the structure, eventually turning into healthy heart cells.

Dr Doris Taylor, an expert in regenerative medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said: ‘The hearts are growing, and we hope they will show signs of beating within the next weeks.

‘There are many hurdles to overcome to generate a fully functioning heart, but my prediction is that it may one day be possible to grow entire organs for transplant.’

Patients given normal heart transplants must take drugs to suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives.

This can increase the risk of high blood pressure, kidney failure and diabetes.

If new hearts could be made using a patient’s own stem cells, it is less likely they would be rejected.

The lab-grown organs have been created using these types of cells – the body’s immature ‘master cells’ which have the ability to turn into different types of tissue. The experiment follows a string of successes for researchers trying to create spare body parts for transplants.

March 16, 2011
Pepsi Introduces Bottles Made Entirely of Plant Material

(via Christian Science Monitor) PepsiCo Inc. unveiled a new bottle Tuesday made entirely of plant material that it says bests the technology of competitor Coca-Cola and reduces bottles’ carbon footprint.

The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business.

The new bottle looks, feels and protects the drink inside exactly the same as its current bottles, said Rocco Papalia, senior vice president of advanced research at PepsiCo.

"It’s a beautiful thing to behold," he said. "It’s indistinguishable."

March 15, 2011
Theory Suggests Large Hadron Collider Could Be World's First Time Machine

(via ScienceDaily) If the latest theory of Tom Weiler and Chui Man Ho is right, the Large Hadron Collider — the world’s largest atom smasher that started regular operation last year — could be the first machine capable of causing matter to travel backwards in time.

"Our theory is a long shot," admitted Weiler, who is a physics professor at Vanderbilt University, "but it doesn’t violate any laws of physics or experimental constraints."

One of the major goals of the collider is to find the elusive Higgs boson: the particle that physicists invoke to explain why particles like protons, neutrons and electrons have mass. If the collider succeeds in producing the Higgs boson, some scientists predict that it will create a second particle, called the Higgs singlet, at the same time.

According to Weiler and Ho’s theory, these singlets should have the ability to jump into an extra, fifth dimension where they can move either forward or backward in time and reappear in the future or past.

"One of the attractive things about this approach to time travel is that it avoids all the big paradoxes," Weiler said. "Because time travel is limited to these special particles, it is not possible for a man to travel back in time and murder one of his parents before he himself is born, for example. However, if scientists could control the production of Higgs singlets, they might be able to send messages to the past or future."

March 10, 2011
U.S. Department of Energy Announces New Biofuel to Replace Gasoline

(via CleanTechnica) Things are moving along at a nice clip in the world of biofuel research, so it seems like news of another “breakthrough” is barely enough to provoke a yawn. Well, this latest piece of news sure stands out from the crowd. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has just announced that a research team headed up by the Department’s BioEnergy Science Center has developed a cost effective method for converting woody plants straight into isobutanol, which can be used in conventional car engines just as gasoline.

In his announcement, Chu was quick to point out that biofuel production has the potential to create new jobs in rural parts of the country. Though some of those jobs might come from putting more farmland into production, the most important thing about DOE’s new isobutanol process is that it does not necessarily rely on new agricultural production. Aside from cultivated biofuel crops, it can use the woody waste from other crops including wheat and rice straw, corn stover, and lumber waste. Handling, transporting and refining these wastes is probably where a good deal of the new employment would occur.

March 6, 2011
Ambient Light Powered LCD Released by Samsung

(via PhysOrg) [Samsung has] tweaked their existing transparent LCD technology, it is now energy efficient enough that it can be powered by ambient light alone. That’s right, just the light in the room, no cords and no batteries to replace.

A prototype of the technology was debuted at CeBIT 2011.

The prototype featured a 46-inch screen that supported full HD resolution video, at 1920x1080 pixels. The screen was also able to act as a full ten finger touchscreen. The company does have plans for commercial models in the works, but they were not too forthcoming with details such as when devices may be available or how much they will cost. This may have something to do with the fact that this technology is still in development. During the demo the touch screen did have some problems.

There are some rumors of Samsung using this technology to develop larger panels than the ones currently in existence. The biggest panels that the company currently releases is a 65-inch model.

February 21, 2011
Libya Turns Off the Internet and the Massacres Begin

(via ZDNet Blogs) First, Libya blocked news sites and Facebook. Then, beginning Friday night, according to Arbor Networks, a network security and Internet monitoring company, announced that Libya had cut itself off from the Internet. Hours later the Libyan dictator’s solders started slaughtering protesters. As of Sunday afternoon, U.S. Eastern time the death toll was above 200 in the city of Benghazi alone.

Welcome to 2011. While dictators in the most repressive regimes, such as North Korea and Cuba, have long kept Internet contact to the world to a bare minimum, less restrictive dictatorships, such as Egypt andLibya left the doors to the Internet cracked open to the public. Now, though, realizing that they could no longer hide their abuses from a world a Twitter tweet away, the new model autocracies, such as Libya and Bahrain have realized that they need to cut their Internet links before bringing out the guns.

As in Bahrain, Libya’s Internet is essentially owned and controlled by the government through a telecommunication company Libya Telecom & Technology. Its chairman is the dictator’s Moammar Gadhafi’s eldest son. Mobile phone services in Libya are also under the control of the government. So far though the government doesn’t seem to have cut international phone services off-perhaps because that’s harder to do without cutting off local telephone service.

Unlike Egypt or Bahrain though, Libya is the home domain of a well-known Internet service, the bit.ly URL tracking and shorting service. Bit.ly, which is operated by the U.S. company of the same name, is used in the popular social network client Tweetdeck. Bit.ly users won’t have anything to worry about though in the short run.

In a Quora, the social network answering service, response Bit.ly CEO John Borthwick, wrote, “Should Libya block Internet traffic, as Egypt did, it will not affect http://bit.ly or any .ly domain.

Borthwick continued, “For .ly domains to be unresolvable the five .ly root servers that are authoritative *all* have to be offline, or responding with empty responses. Of the five root name-servers for the .ly TLD [Top Level Domain]: two are based in Oregon, one is in the Netherlands and two are in Libya.”

He then went to assure Bit.ly users that they “will continue to do everything we can to ensure we offer our users the best service we possibly can. That includes offering options around which top level domain you use. Many users choose to use http://j.mp/ as an alternative to http://bit.ly, given that it is shorter. And some use http://bitly.com.”

Of course, if Libya were to keep its Internet turned off for more than a few days, then the  “ly” addresses will  run into trouble. As Internet engineer Kim Davies explained on Quora, “It is a sense of false confidence to state that country-code domains are impervious to these kinds of government-mandated Internet shutdowns. If a country like Libya decides to shut down the Internet affecting the registry operations of .LY, while it is unlikely to have an immediate effect unless they explicitly empty the registry data, it can have a devastating effect in short order.”

“Borthwick states that because the authoritative servers (they are not root servers) for .LY are located outside the country it is safe, but the authoritative servers outside the country are reliant on being capable of obtaining updates from the .LY registry inside the country. If they are unable to succeed in getting updates, at some point they will consider the data they have stale and stop providing information on the .LY domain,” continued Davies.

“In the case of .LY, the absolute maximum for that is configured for 28 days (SOA [Start of Authority Record] expiry TTL [Time to Live] is 2419200 seconds). Without external intervention, the availability of .LY domains would be compromised somewhere between 0 and 28 days if the Libyan registry is cut off the Internet,” Davies concluded.

So, while bit.ly and other .ly Web sites and services that aren’t hosted in Libya won’t be seeing their TTL expiring anytime soon, eventually, if Libya were to stay off the Internet, they would die off.

Of course, the far more important issue is that while Libya keeps its Internet off, its government is trying to kill off its critics. The Internet silence that falls when an authoritative regime starts to slaughter its citizens is far more chilling than any subsidiary effect it might have on the global Internet.

January 13, 2011
Tianjin Eco-City In China: Possible Future of Urban Development

Tianjin Eco-City is a fascinating, 30 square kilometer development designed to showcase the hottest new green technologies and to serve as a model for future developing Chinese cities. Designed by Surbana Urban Planning Group, the city is being built just 10 minutes away from the business parks at the Tianjin Economic-Development Area, making for a commute that should be a breeze with the development’s advanced light rail transit system. Even cooler, the community’s expected 350,000 residents will be able to choose different landscapes ranging from a sun-powered solarscape to a greenery-clad earthscape to enjoy.

Eco-City will make use of the latest sustainable technologies such as solar powerwind power, rainwater recycling, and wastewater treatment/desalination of sea water. In order to reduce the city’s carbon emissions, residents will be encouraged to use an advanced light rail system, and China has also pledged that 90 percent of traffic within the city will be public transport. The development also features some beautiful public green spaces.

The city will be divided into seven distinct sectors – a Lifescape, an Eco-Valley, a Solarscape, an Urbanscape, a Windscape, an Earthscape and Eco-Corridors. Surrounded by greenery, the Lifescape will consist of a series of soil-topped mounds that will counteract the towering apartment buildings of the other communities. To the north of the Lifescape, the Solarscape will act as the administrative and civic center of the Eco-City. Demonstrating the concept of a compact, multilayered city, the Urbanscape will be the core of the Eco-City, featuring stacked programs interconnected by sky-bridges at multiple levels to make efficient use of vertical space. In contrast to the Urbanscape, the Earthscape will act as a sort of suburb of the city, with stepped architecture that will maximize public green space. Last but not least, the Windscape will transform Qingtuozi, a century-old village surrounded by a small lake, into a venue for citizens to relax and recreate.

In order to reduce the city’s carbon emissions, residents will be encouraged to use an advanced light rail system, and China has also pledged that 90 percent of traffic within the city will be public transport.

The city’s expected completion date is in 2020.

January 11, 2011
Newly Developed Glass is Stronger and Tougher Than Steel

A new type of damage-tolerant metallic glass, demonstrating a strength and toughness beyond that of any known material, has been developed and tested by a collaboration of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)and the California Institute of Technology. What’s more, even better versions of this new glass may be on the way.

"These results mark the first use of a new strategy for metallic glass fabrication and we believe we can use it to make glass that will be even stronger and more tough," says Robert Ritchie, a materials scientist who led the Berkeley contribution to the research.

The new metallic glass is a microalloy featuring palladium, a metal with a high “bulk-to-shear” stiffness ratio that counteracts the intrinsic brittleness of glassy materials.

December 18, 2010
Wind Turbines Found to be Helpful to Crops by Channelling Beneficial Breezes Over Nearby Plants

Wind turbines in Midwestern farm fields may be doing more than churning out electricity. The giant turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and dryer, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide [CO2] from the air and soil.

"We’ve finished the first phase of our research, and we’re confident that wind turbines do produce measureable effects on the microclimate near crops," said Ames Laboratory associate and agricultural meteorology expert Gene Takle. According to Takle, who is also a professor of agricultural meteorology and director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University, the slow-moving turbine blades that have become a familiar sight along Midwestern highways, channel air downwards, in effect bathing the crops below via the increased airflow they create.

"The turbulence resulting from wind turbines may speed up natural exchange processes between crop plants and the lower atmosphere," Takle said.

For instance, crops warm up when the sun shines on them, and some of that heat is given off to the atmosphere. Extra air turbulence likely speeds up this heat exchange, so crops stay slightly cooler during hot days. On cold nights, turbulence stirs the lower atmosphere and keeps nighttime temperatures around the crops warmer.

"In this case, we anticipate turbines’ effects are good in the spring and fall because they would keep the crop a little warmer and help prevent a frost," said Takle. "Wind turbines could possibly ward off early fall frosts and extend the growing season."

December 8, 2010
Classic Computer Game 'Tetris' May Reduce Flashbacks After Viewing Traumatic Images

The computer game Tetris may have a special ability to reduce flashbacks after viewing traumatic images not shared by other types of computer game, Oxford University scientists have discovered in a series of experiments.

In two separate experiments, the team showed a film to healthy volunteers that included traumatic images of injury from a variety of sources, including adverts highlighting the dangers of drink driving — a recognised way to study the effects of trauma in the laboratory.

In the first experiment, after waiting for 30 minutes, 20 volunteers played Tetris for 10 minutes, 20 played Pub Quiz, in which they had to select one of four on-screen answers, for 10 minutes and 20 did nothing. Those who had played Tetris experienced significantly fewer flashbacks of the film than those who did nothing, whilst those who played Pub Quiz experienced significantly more flashbacks.

In the second experiment, this wait was extended to four hours, with 25 volunteers in each group. Those who played Tetris again had significantly fewer flashbacks that the other two groups. In both experiments, all groups were equally able to recall specific details of the film.

'Our latest findings suggest Tetris is still effective as long as it is played within a critical six-hour window after viewing a stressful film,' said Dr Emily Holmes of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, who led the work. 'Whilst playing Tetris can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event, we have shown that not all computer games have this beneficial effect — some may even have a detrimental effect on how people deal with traumatic memories.'

These latest findings support how the team believes the approach works:

The mind is considered to have two separate channels of thought: one is sensory and deals with our direct perceptual experience of the world through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The other channel is conceptual, and is responsible for putting together these perceptual experiences in a meaningful way — putting them into context. Generally, these two channels work in balance with each other, for example, we would use one channel to see and hear someone talk and the other to comprehend the meaning of what they are saying.

However, when someone is exposed to traumatic information, these channels are thought to function unequally so that the perceptual information is emphasised over the conceptual information. This means we are less likely to remember the experience of being in a high-speed road traffic collision as a coherent story, and more likely to remember it by the flash of headlights and noise of a crash. This perceptual information then pops up repeatedly in the victim’s mind in the form of flashbacks to the trauma causing great emotional distress, as little conceptual meaning has been attached to them.

Research tells us that there is a period of up to six hours after the trauma in which it is possible to interfere with the way that these traumatic memories are formed in the mind. During this time-frame, certain tasks can compete with the same brain channels that are needed to form the memory. This is because there are limits to our abilities in each channel: for example, it is difficult to hold a conversation while doing maths problems.

The Oxford team reasoned that recognising the shapes and moving the coloured building blocks around in Tetris competes with the images of trauma in the perceptual information channel. Consequently, the images of trauma (the flashbacks) are reduced. The team believe that this is not a simple case of distracting the mind with a computer game, as answering general knowledge questions in the Pub Quiz game increased flashbacks. The researchers believe that this verbal based game competes with remembering the contextual meaning of the trauma, so the visual memories in the perceptual channel are reinforced and the flashbacks are increased.

November 8, 2010
Laptop Computers Lower Sperm Count of Men Who Use Them on Lap, Research Shows

The study, led by a urologist at SUNY Stony Brook and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, says that the heat from laptops is just too darn hot, even when using a pad under the computer, for the little swimmers.

Says the doc behind the study, “Within 10 or 15 minutes their scrotal temperature is already above what we consider safe, but they don’t feel it.”

In addition to the heat from the laptop, perching the computer on one’s legs generally requires one to keep their legs together. This also raises the temperature of the testes.

Even with a large lap pad that would allow the user to spread their legs wider, the study still found it only took 30 minutes for the testes to overheat.

The study warns against frequent laptop use, saying that not giving your guys some cool-down time could contribute to reproductive problems:

"I wouldn’t say that if someone starts to use laptops they will become infertile… No matter what you do, even with the legs spread wide apart, the temperature is still going to be higher than what we call safe."

November 3, 2010
Eye Chip in Retina Can Help 'Blind See'

A man with an inherited form of blindness has been able to identify letters and a clock face using a pioneering implant, researchers say.

Miikka Terho, 46, from Finland, was fitted with an experimental chip behind his retina in Germany. Success was also reported in other patients.

The chip allows a patient to detect objects with their eyes, unlike a rival approach that uses an external camera.

Professor Eberhart Zrenner, of Germany’s University of Tuebingen, and colleagues at private company Retina Implant AG initially tested their sub-retinal chip on 11 people.

Some noticed no improvement as their condition was too advanced to benefit from the implant, but a majority were able to pick out bright objects, Prof Zrenner told the BBC.

However, it was only when the chip was placed further behind the retina, in the central macular area in three people, that they achieved the best results.

The best results were achieved with Mr Terho, who was able to recognise cutlery and a mug on a table, a clock face and discern seven different shades of grey. He was also able to move around a room independently and approach people.

In further tests he read large letters set out before him, including his name, which had been deliberately misspelled. He soon noticed it had been spelt in the same way as the Finnish racing driver Mika Hakkinnen.

The chip works by converting light that enters the eye into electrical impulses which are fed into the optic nerve behind the eye.

It is externally powered and in the initial study was connected to a cable which protruded from the skin behind the ear to connect with a battery.

The team are now testing an upgrade in which the device is all contained beneath the skin, with power delivered though the skin via an external device that clips behind the ear.

This is by no means the only approach being taken by scientists to try to restore some visual ability to people with retinal dysfunction - what’s called retinal dystrophy.

A rival chip by US-based Second Sight that sits on top of the retina has already been implanted in patients, but that technique requires the patient to be fitted with a camera fixed to a pair of glasses.

Charities gave the news of the latest work a cautious welcome.

David Head, of the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society, said: “It’s really fascinating work, but it doesn’t restore vision. It rather gives people signals which help them to interpret.”

October 29, 2010
World’s Most Precise Clocks Could Reveal Universe Is a Hologram

Our existence could be coded in a finite bandwidth, like a live ultra-high-definition 3-D video. And the third dimension we know and love could be no more than a holographic projection of a 2-D surface.

A scientist’s experiment, now under construction in Illinois, will attempt to test these ideas by the end of next year using what will be two of the world’s most precise clocks.

Skeptics of a positive result abound, but their caution comes with good reason: The smallest pieces of space, time, mass and other properties of the universe, called Planck units, are so tiny that verifying them by experiment may be impossible. The Planck unit of length, for example, is 10 trillion trillion times smaller than the width of a proton.

Craig Hogan, a particle astrophysicist at Fermilab in Illinois, isn’t letting this seemingly insurmountable barrier stop him from trying.

Hogan is following through on a radical idea to confirm Planck units with two of the most precise clocks in the world. Deemed holometers, each L-shaped laser interferometer will have two perpendicular, 131-foot-long arms to scan for pixelation in the very fabric of space and time. If it’s there, two laser beams (split from a single source) that run through the arms won’t hit a detector at the same time.

“What we’re looking for is when the lasers lose step with each other. We’re trying to detect the smallest unit in the universe,” Hogan said. “This is really great fun, a sort of old-fashioned physics experiment where you don’t know what the result will be.”

The two holometers, now being built in an earth-covered tunnel on Fermilab’s prairie-covered campus, will initially be stacked almost on top of one another to listen for the same Planck-scale “noise.” Once the machine is calibrated and environmental interference is accounted for, Hogan says it should only take a matter of minutes to see if the devices simultaneously see it.

Should Hogan’s team detect something significant, they will then separate the machines and run the experiment all over again. If the noise they measure next isn’t correlated between the machines, it could be the calling card of a limit to space-time’s resolution.

Inspiration for the holometer came from such a noise picked up by an experiment called GEO600. Designed to detect gravity waves — ripples in space-time caused by things like colliding black holes — the machine is a laser interferometer like the holometer will be, yet has arms 15 times longer and a lower-frequency laser source (to be sensitive to gravity waves, if they exist).

Experimental physicist Hartmut Grote, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, said he and his colleagues at GEO600 have been unable to pinpoint the source.

“In the past, [Hogan] became a little bit driven, even excited for some time, that this noise could be a result of the holographic principle,” Grote said.

The holographic principle, derived from weirdness theorized to occur at the boundaries of black holes, says reality could be a 3-D projection of a 2-D plane of information. It’s much the same way a hologram printed on a credit card creates the illusion of a 3-D object but, as Hogan explained, we can’t perceive the 2-D surface.

“We could be living inside that 3-D projection, with the truer vision of it as a 2-D sheet hidden by scale,” Hogan said.

Ultra-precise devices such as laser interferometers might be able to detect noisy fluctuations in the projection, which Grote says might “blow up” the pixelation to a larger, detectable size. Yet Grote suggests Hogan’s holometers, which are slated to be finished in a year, may be too late if progress with GEO600 continues on-schedule.

“We are not at the point where we can verify the noise we discovered is holographic, but we can falsify it as soon as our instrument is more sensitive than the limits of Hogan’s theory,” Grote said. “I’m confident we will reach that point over the next half of a year and find the source of the noise.”

Hogan maintains his cheeriness for the endeavor, even if much of the physics community remains skeptical. But Grote says Hogan has good reason to be upbeat.

“I think it’s a reasonable design to measure this effect, even though I think it’s unlikely he’s going to measure something,” Grote said. “If anything happens, he’ll put to rest another exotic theory about the universe.”

If he does find a limit to the universe’s resolution by exploiting the cosmos’ possible holographic underpinnings, however, Grote said it will make waves.

“It would be a very strong impact to one of the most open questions in fundamental physics,” he said. “It would be the first proof that space-time, the fabric of the universe, is quantized.”

September 13, 2010
Video Games Lead to Faster Decisions That Are No Less Accurate

Cognitive scientists from the University of Rochester have discovered that playing action video games trains people to make the right decisions faster. The researchers found that video game players develop a heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them, and this benefit doesn’t just make them better at playing video games, but improves a wide variety of general skills that can help with everyday activities like multitasking, driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around town.

In an upcoming study in the journal Current Biology, authors Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green report that video games could provide a potent training regimen for speeding up reactions in many types of real-life situations.

Video games have grown in popularity to the point where 68 percent of American households have members that play them, according to a 2009 report by the Entertainment Software Association.

The researchers tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video game players. They split the subjects into two groups. One group played 50 hours of the fast-paced action video games “Call of Duty 2” and “Unreal Tournament,” and the other group played 50 hours of the slow-moving strategy game “The Sims 2.”

After this training period, all of the subjects were asked to make quick decisions in several tasks designed by the researchers. In the tasks, the participants had to look at a screen, analyze what was going on, and answer a simple question about the action in as little time as possible (i.e. whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average). In order to make sure the effect wasn’t limited to just visual perception, the participants were also asked to complete an analogous task that was purely auditory.

The action game players were up to 25 percent faster at coming to a conclusion and answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game playing peers.

"It’s not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: They are just as accurate and also faster," Bavelier said. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."

The authors’ neural simulations shed light on why action gamers have augmented decision making capabilities. People make decisions based on probabilities that they are constantly calculating and refining in their heads, Bavelier explains. The process is called probabilistic inference. The brain continuously accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information as a person surveys a scene, eventually gathering enough for the person to make what they perceive to be an accurate decision.

"Decisions are never black and white," she said. "The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a binary decision: brake or don’t brake."

Action video game players’ brains are more efficient collectors of visual and auditory information, and therefore arrive at the necessary threshold of information they need to make a decision much faster than non gamers, the researchers found.

The new study builds on previous work by Bavelier and colleagues that showed that video games improve vision by making players more sensitive to slightly different shades of color.

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