Can Playing Portal Affect Spatial Thinking and Increase Learning in a STEM Area?


Spatial skills have been associated with learning in STEM areas and some research has shown that playing video games could facilitate the development of spatial skills. This study examines whether playing a game that uses a realistic physics engine and places spatial demands on the players could facilitate learning a subsequent physics lesson. Fifty-eight participants viewed a brief lesson on Newton’s laws of motion after either playing the puzzle game Tetris or the first-person perspective puzzle game Portal, which incorporates aspects of physics such as momentum. The groups did not differ on subsequent tests of learning outcomes involving physics, but the Portal group scored significantly higher on a perspective taking test (d = 0.57). This study shows that playing a commercial game that incorporates Newtonian physics does not prepare students to learn physics but does improve an important spatial cognition skill related to physics.

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