Exploring the influence of tracking moving objects on declarative learning through video games

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Action video games require players to monitor, track and respond to moving stimuli. Evidence suggests that playing video games can have a positive influence on cognition, learning and brain plasticity. Possible explanations for these effects may involve the levels of attention required to enable an accurate representation of moving elements. However, the key features of video games responsible for these effects have not been identified, and the mechanisms by which video games may produce higher levels of attention and learning are not completely understood.

This thesis reports on five experiments that attempt to explore whether declarative memory for semantic information associated with objects is enhanced when the objects are in motion and need to be tracked and acted upon – as part of an educational game – compared to when they remain stationary and acted upon. In every game, participants were required to identify and act on objects containing numbers, according to whether it was a prime number or not. Experiment 1 (N=20) explored the research question through a single game session and found that prime numbers learned under the motion condition (moving objects) were recognised faster compared to the control game, but not more accurately, suggesting a speed-accuracy trade-off. The extension of game play to five sessions in Experiment 2 (N=16) showed that duration of play had a stronger initial effect on learning in the motion condition than when the objects were static, but over all five sessions no statistically significant difference in learning could be established between conditions. Using an enhanced version of the game with more game-like features, Experiments 3 (N=19), 4 (N= 49) and 5 (N=51) found no difference in the recall of information learned through acting on moving or static objects. An element of social competition in the form of a 2-player mode was added to Experiment 5, which showed that, during game play, accuracy was significantly higher for information learned through tracking moving objects, suggesting a motivational effect that acted favourably in conjunction with the motion tracking feature of the game and provided faster recall.

Taken together, the findings of the present research suggest that acting on moving objects as part of video game play is not associated with better declarative memory for semantic information related to the object. An underpowered design, as a result of small sample sizes in the experiments, may be the reason for the lack of evidence to detect this effect. During game play, however, there was some evidence of higher levels of accuracy over trials for identifying stimuli compared with the static condition, suggesting enhanced levels of attention may have been deployed. These findings suggest that tracking may recruit more attentional resources to the stimuli during game play, which may impact performance for identifying stimuli during the game, but this did not produce measurable improvements in subsequent tests of declarative memory for stimuli.

Results are discussed in terms of the theoretical principles that supported the hypothesis of the effect of motion tracking on declarative memory, the limitations of the tasks designed, the epistemological constraints of conducting laboratory experiments for educational learning and recommendations for further exploration of the features of video games that may produce learning of educational value.
Date of Award29 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SponsorsCONICYT, Becas Chile Programme
SupervisorShelley McKeown Jones (Supervisor) & Paul A Howard-Jones (Supervisor)


  • declarative learning
  • multiple object tracking
  • educational video games
  • educational neuroscience
  • visual cognition
  • semantic memory

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