Student Presents Research at U.S. Capitol: Game On!

OGDEN, Utah – Christian Petersen wouldn’t describe himself as a video game enthusiast, yet his research on gaming is taking him to Washington, D.C.

“I’m somewhat of a gamer. I do a little bit of gaming,” Petersen said.

Petersen, a senior earning his degree in psychology at Weber State University, will represent the state of Utah at the 2010 Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill event April 13, held at the U.S. Capitol. At the event, he’ll share the results of his research with national lawmakers, results that suggest computer gaming can be, contrary to common opinion, beneficial.

“The main idea behind my research was the suggestion that there may be benefits to gaming,” Petersen said. “I looked at articles that showed benefits to gaming. I wanted to try and replicate those results.”

Petersen conducted a study with 50 university students, whose video gaming habits varied dramatically. Participants completed a questionnaire about their gaming experience, and then took a short computer-based test that measured visual responsiveness.

After the test, students were encouraged to play Halo 3, a popular first-person shooter game, for 20, 40 or 60 minutes depending on the participant. At the conclusion of each gaming session, subjects were asked to take the visual awareness test again.

“We found a great increase in ability to spot changes in visual field after playing the video game,” Petersen said. “Visual response and alertness increased significantly from the pre-test to the post-test.”

The amount of time subjects spent playing Halo 3 did not seem to be a factor.

Petersen characterized his findings as “surprising,” even though a study conducted at Hill Air Force Base found a similar result with air traffic controllers who played Halo 3 during breaks in their shifts.

“This is a relatively new area of research that’s emerged during the last five years,” Petersen said. “Not all the studies have found gaming to be beneficial.”

Petersen suggests methodology in past studies may play a factor in discrepancies. He said studies that find video games to be beneficial are often perceived as controversial because prevailing opinion holds that video games are detrimental.

The Clearfield resident is quick to point out that further research is needed to remove some of the variables, research Petersen said he would be interested in pursuing as he continues his studies in graduate school, working toward a career in neuroscience.

Meanwhile, Petersen is excited about the invitation to Capitol Hill.

“I e-mailed my professor Lauren Fowler the night I got the news,” Petersen said. “By the next morning, my inbox was stuffed with letters from others congratulating me, wishing me well.”

This is the fifth time in six years that a WSU student has been invited to represent the state of Utah at the prestigious annual event. Petersen joins Lindsay Cole (2008), Kristena Kons (2007), Kalista Francom (2006) and Eric Gabrielsen (2005) on the list of WSU students who have been invited to present their research at Posters on the Hill.

Like many of his predecessors, Petersen will meet with Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop.

“I feel some responsibility to convey the importance of education, the importance of undergraduate research,” Petersen said. “Undergraduate research gives you the fundamentals to understand how to do this kind of work, and a critical eye for understanding what’s going on.”

The annual Undergraduate Research Posters on the Hill event, scheduled for April 13, is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. The event provides a way to thank lawmakers for their support of federally funded scientific research and to demonstrate the results of that research at colleges and universities across the country.

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Christian Petersen, undergraduate researcher
801-928-0771 •
John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
801-626-7212 •