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Pilots, Basketball, Ice Hockey and Brain Training

May 28, 2010

I guessed the winner! Sharp Brains.com announced the Brain Fitness Innovation Awards this week. Having a fairly comprehensive overview of the Brain Training software and research base I was pretty sure what the result might be….

I have been watching Daniel Gopher’s research program (and its application) for a long time and it had all the potential hallmarks of success in the Brain Training Awards area…transfer of training is the holy grail!

Professor Gopher’s work over 15-20 years combines cognitive psychology and Human Factors Engineering. His earliest work concerned the management of attention and performance mechanisms. His earliest training/research work was with the Israeli Air Force. Normally pilots are trained in a replica of an aeroplane’s cockpit, in what Gopher calls a situation of physical fidelity (see here). However, Gopher set out to identify the set of skills, and the  mental demands that pilots are required to cope with in the real world of flying an aeroplane. By systematically defining  these skills which have cognitive fidelity with the demands of flying an aeroplane he could train and then assess transfer of the training to the real world of flying.  With this research design there is a specific identifiable context (aeroplane cockpit and instruments) , a selection of identifiable, trainable skills and flying manoeuvres which demand control over attention, decision-making, memory load, quick reaction time, and response choice.

Gopher decided to employ the complex computer game “Space fortress” which was designed to simulate a dynamic aviation environment. Gopher writes, “Despite appearing cartoon-like to the naive eye, the game provides a highly controlled experimental environment in which parameters and manipulations were well specified”.

The trainee pilots panic response to the speed and demands of each 3 minute Space Fortress game was gradually replaced by development of survival strategies. However many of these strategies were sub-optimal and held back progress. Once a strategy was developed they stuck to it! Players were then trained on the control of attention which also provided a change of emphasis within the game components.  Gopher argues that from his research efficient control and management of attention are skills that can improve with proper training and generalize to new situations. Training, particularly of attention mechanisms he says, should lead performers to develop, explore, select and stabilize attention strategies.

Transfer of training to real world settings

For transfer to real world settings similarity between the training environment and the real world situation is essential. Gopher found that attention strategies developed by the trainee pilots while practicing the computer game were also found to be efficient in actual flight. Gopher’s computer game group showed a clear advantage compared to the no game group on flight scores (30% increase).

The crucial element for transfer of training is the importance of fidelity. The training framework must bring the two situations, game and real-world, closer together by carefully “constraining itself to dimensions and aspects that are relevant to both”. It is a delicate balance….

Professor Gopher’s work with colleagues is behind the Gold winning Intelligym products which train basketball and ice hockey players.

The Silver Winners

Allstate in Pennsylvania invited selected drivers, 50 years and older, to help validate the impact targeted cognitive training such as  Posit Science Insight can have on driving safety.This computer program trains skills appropriate to car driving in everyday life (including Useful Field of View) which will aid prevention of injuries, save lives, enable older people to maintain their independence longer and provide peace of mind to adult children faced with difficult decisions as parents age. Their results showed that the Posit Science software positively impacted the accident records of those completing the program. Evidence across numerous studies using different methodologies confirms the importance of the UFOV assessment as a valid and reliable index of driving performance and safety. Recent prospective studies have confirmed a relationship between UFOV performance and future crashes, further supporting the use of this instrument as a potential screening measure for at-risk older drivers. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also used the Posit Science Insight program and came in the top ten.)

Nationwide Mutual Insurance offered a web-based tool to help employees enhance positivity, emotional resilience and deal with others more effectively.The program is intended to help to redefine what work means by infusing the professional with the personal will to win, and have as a reward loyal employees, a happy culture, and an overall higher performing workforce. The positive self-report measures were considered impressive by the judging panel.

The Outcome?

There are horses for courses….think I’ll try an Intelligym product (or Space Fortress) after I’ve finished the Posit Science programs….. NOT that I’m looking to join a sports team, but I’d like to experience the speed demands which drive the brain’s attention mechanism…. panic stations!

Mybrainsolutions refers to a large body of scientific information, but self-reported ‘feel good’ statements that may seem real at the time may not last.

I am unsure of the criteria the judges used….did they include transfer of training?

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