A new study suggests that playing action video games could improve the literacy skills of those with dyslexia. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has shown that people with dyslexia have greater difficulty than normal readers do when it comes to managing competing sensory cues, which often makes reading more difficult.

Armed with this knowledge, Vanessa Harrar and her colleagues from Oxford University investigated how people with dyslexia process multisensory stimuli. They found that shifting attention from visual to auditory stimuli is particularly difficult for people who have dyslexia compared to good readers.

Study participants were asked to push a button as quickly as possible when they heard a sound, saw a dim flash, or experienced both together, and the speed of the push was monitored. People with dyslexia were particularly slow at pressing the button when a sound-only trial followed a visual-only trial.

Harrar says that more research needs to be done, but her preliminary opinion is that people with dyslexia might learn associations between letters and their sounds faster if they first hear the sound and then see the corresponding letter or word. Her team is thus pushing for a nonverbal approach to treating dyslexia using action video games in the hopes of improving reading and writing.

The proposition is that training people with dyslexia to shift attention quickly from visual to auditory stimuli and back – such as with a video game where attention must constantly shift focus – could also improve literacy. Action video games have previously been shown to improve multitasking skills and could also be beneficial for improving speed of shifting attention from on task or sense to another.