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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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