Journal of Cognitive Enhancement

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 436–444 | Cite as

An Expectancy Effect Causes Improved Visual Attention Performance After Video Game Playing

  • Gabriel Arantes TiraboschiEmail author
  • Sérgio S. Fukusima
  • Greg L. West
Original Research


Numerous studies in the last decade have shown the potential for video games to enhance several cognitive processes, with most evidence targeting visual attention. However, a debate has emerged in the literature pointing to flawed experimental design being responsible for such findings. For example, participants’ expectancy effects (i.e., a placebo) have been proposed as an alternate explanation for observed cognitive enhancement resulting from video game training. Nevertheless, to this day, there is no empirical evidence suggesting that video game studies are susceptible to expectancy effects. Here, we investigate whether we could induce an expectancy effect in visual attentional performance with a brief single placebo video game training session. We recruited naive participants and randomly assigned them into two groups that went through the same experimental procedure, except for the experimental instructions. The experimental procedure included a pre-test with an Attentional Blink task and a Useful field of view task, then a single 15-min video game training session, and finally a post-test with the same tasks as the pre-test. The placebo group received instructions implying that the video game would make them perform better, while the control group was told that they would play a video game to give them a break from the experiment. Our results show an overall significant increase in the Useful field of view performance uniquely for the placebo group. Together, these results confirm the hypothesis that video game training experiments are susceptible to expectancy effects.


Expectancy effects Attention Useful field of view Attentional blink Video games 



We are very grateful to all those who volunteered for this study. We would also like to thank Dr. Ricardo Garcia and Dr. Rafael Auler for their feedback and support. This study was financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior-Brasil (CAPES)-Finance Code 001.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The experiment was carried out in accordance with the Code of Ethics of the World Medical Association (Declaration of Helsinki) and was approved by the local Ethics Committee (CAAE#79356817.8.0000.5407). All participants were students or other staff of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to participation.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of São PauloRibeirão PretoBrazil
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

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