As 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 is Lead Scientist at Peak.