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Brain training 2.0: Adding 3D Navigation to Optimize Cognitive Training

StreetNavAs dis­cussed dur­ing my Sharp­Brains Sum­mit talk last week, it is very impor­tant to ensure fideli­ty between brain train­ing tasks and the real-world sce­nar­ios where we expect those sharp­ened cog­ni­tive skills to be put to good use. That’s why, work­ing with a num­ber of researchers in the US and Europe, I’ve been devel­op­ing a new 3D task called Street Nav, as part of Peak’s suite of mobile cog­ni­tive train­ing games.

And this is what we just released: Pre­sent­ing an aer­i­al map with start and end-points to mem­o­rise, the game places the user at street lev­el with the task of nav­i­gat­ing to the des­ig­nat­ed des­ti­na­tion, in an immer­sive 3D envi­ron­ment (see image to the right). In doing so, we believe that the ben­e­fits of the train­ing task will be more like­ly to trans­fer into real-life nav­i­ga­tion skills, and this is some­thing we will research in depth as thou­sands of users down­load the game on the App Store and start putting it to the test.

Why the focus on nav­i­ga­tion?

Nav­i­ga­tion has received its fair share of cov­er­age of late, fol­low­ing the award of the Nobel Prize for Phys­i­ol­o­gy or Med­i­cine to three sci­en­tists for their part in show­ing the brain’s spe­cialised sys­tems for nav­i­ga­tion. Research under­tak­en by one of the prize win­ners, Pro­fes­sor John O’Keefe, indi­cates that exper­i­ments using tasks sim­i­lar to that in Street Nav show acti­va­tion in areas of the brain that are linked to spa­tial abil­i­ties.

In the past, 3D games have con­tributed to the treat­ment of pho­bias, by tak­ing real-life tech­niques and cre­at­ing vir­tu­al cor­re­spon­dents. Sim­i­lar­ly, vir­tu­al real­i­ty is used as a com­po­nent in cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion, pro­vid­ing more eco­log­i­cal­ly valid and dynam­ic assess­ments and train­ing.

The imple­men­ta­tion of vir­tu­al real­i­ty and 3D games allow us to reduce the lev­el of abstrac­tion in cog­ni­tive train­ing and ini­ti­ate a phase shift towards skills train­ing. In the case of Street Nav, the user is engaged in an immer­sive envi­ron­ment that more close­ly resem­bles real life sit­u­a­tions than tra­di­tion­al “brain games”. This not only utilis­es spe­cif­ic capac­i­ties for the task (e.g. spa­tial mem­o­ry), but sup­plies the user with a com­fort­able envi­ron­ment for tri­al and error with a quick feed­back loop, which in turn facil­i­tates learn­ing and devel­op­ment of dif­fer­ent strate­gies.

Trans­lat­ing abstract train­ing into a vir­tu­al real­i­ty task can bet­ter reflect real-world train­ing and as a con­se­quence, per­for­mance. This is due to the addi­tion­al com­po­nents com­prised with­in the task, such as visu­ospa­tial abil­i­ties and atten­tion. Not only does visu­al real­i­ty improve eco­log­i­cal valid­i­ty, but it can allow us to teach spe­cif­ic skills. A case in point is the train­ing of army pilots using flight sim­u­la­tors. This strat­e­gy is used not only to improve spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive areas, but also to teach how to actu­al­ly fly a plane.

Cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions mean that 3D and first-per­son per­spec­tives are as close as it gets to vir­tu­al real­i­ty. How­ev­er the future will undoubt­ed­ly bring more oppor­tu­ni­ties to extend the eco­log­i­cal valid­i­ty of brain train­ing games by incor­po­rat­ing new vir­tu­al real­i­ty tech­nolo­gies. Gath­er­ing and ana­lyz­ing large sam­ples of data among our users will enable us to mea­sure the effec­tive­ness and effi­cien­cy of this approach, and to refine our over­all plat­form.

Fun times ahead!

Roy Zahut– Roy Zahut is Lead Sci­en­tist at Peak.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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