Following a deep dive into the impact of larger, higher-resolution screens on the brain, it seems biggering your monitor, or adding more screens, could trump the need for a CPU or GPU upgrade, studies suggest.
According to experts like Annie Murphy Paul—author of The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain (opens in new tab)—by consigning ourselves to smaller screens, we're not just limiting our view but limiting our actual thinking.
There's a real sense of being blinkered when you're stuck on a small screen, as anyone who grew up in the '80s can surely attest to. But having more information accessible to your eyeballs at once has been shown to bolster your thinking, improving your work and research processes, as well as your gaming performance.
"Doing so much on a little screen really limits how well we can think," Paul says. "When we have this capacity to engage our bodies and engage our spatial memory—when we have those bigger screens or multiple screens—that can extend our thinking."
Reach out with your eyeballs
This concept of 'extending your thinking' may sound a little out there to some of us, so let's break it down.
In her book, Paul explains that humans tend to create mental maps of information. By translating that into a visual 'concept map' on a larger screen, we can essentially trick our brains into processing information more efficiently.
More screen space, she explains, is effective at helping us bring together disparate information thanks to a process known as cognitive offloading. Basically, you use the larger screen space to reduce the cognitive demands placed on yourself.
Also highlighted by Paul is the amazing potential of the human brain: "This impressive organ, we’re led to understand, can more than meet any demands we might make of it," she asserts. "Large-format displays and multi-monitor setups are just one way humans can hack the brain’s built-in navigational system."
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"The improvements generated by the use of the super-sized display are striking," Paul continues, citing the work of Professor Robert Ball of Weber State University in Utah. His findings clearly show "large high-resolution displays increase by more than tenfold the average speed at which basic visualization tasks are completed.
"On more challenging tasks, such as pattern finding, study participants improved their performance by 200 to 300 percent when using large displays."
Gaming with blinkers
The sentiment, of course, can easily extend to gaming—otherwise, why would I be writing about it? But just buying a higher resolution screen, while neglecting to upgrade your hardware to handle it (opens in new tab), will mean the idea of extending your thinking simply won't translate. Particularly in the world of fast-paced, competitive gaming.
Professor Ball outlined further insights (opens in new tab) into how bigger screens can benefit gamers specifically. In his research, he found "Larger displays allowed the expert game players to take advantage of being able to see more information at once and use fewer mouse clicks to control the game."
Sure you'll be able to see more, but at what cost to your frame rate?
He goes on to proclaim that a slower computer with a larger screen trumps a faster computer with a smaller screen. I'm sorry, that's fine for a slow and sprawling research session, but being gamers I think we can safely say it's best to check your hardware capabilities before you make the move to one of the best 4K gaming monitors (opens in new tab).
Provided your PC can parse the pixels, however, it makes a lot of sense to me that RTS players, for example, could easily benefit from a larger screen. Being able to see more of the map at large is a great advantage so you know what's going on in the enemy camp without having to shift around the mini-map.
The same goes for FPS players who'll get a wider field of view in which to spot enemies or farming sim players who want to check if their parsnips are ready without walking halfway across the map. Bigger is clearly better here.
If you find yourself convinced, now may be the time to upsize to one of our best curved monitors (opens in new tab), or take a look down the list of best gaming TVs (opens in new tab) because that 22-inch 1080p monitor could just be hampering your gaming brainpower.
Fidgeting excites your brain juice
Another method of ramping up your productivity worth exploring are all these gesture-based interactions that companies have been trying to get us to adopt for years now. Paul tells us that engaging the body—even just through head movements—can really make a difference to thinking.
"We really did not evolve as human beings to remain still, and to inhibit that natural urge to move (especially in children) uses up some mental bandwidth." That's brain power we could be using to crush our enemies, or problem solve in other potentially more constructive ways in our home offices.
Embodiment, in short, improves thinking. As such, gestures are a prime way to help ideas flow easier. Paul explains, "Often gestures can capture some element of what we're trying to think about or express." She says it's "an integral part of our thinking processes; the more we gesture, the better we understand, the better we remember."
So after all that dissing the Wii, and complaining about how lame fidget spinners are, I bet you're starting to come around now, huh? Who knows, maybe all those gesture gloves people are shilling will catch on, so we can all be more like Tom Cruise's character in the film Minority Report (opens in new tab).