Neuroscience + Gaming = the NEW medicine?
If I think back and compare the world as it was in 2006 - pre iDevices and social media - and how it is now in 2014, I see entirely different sets of day to day living. Two big, and still growing phenomena have driven this revolution: massive mobility/access, and huge global interconnection. In less than a decade, the change in the world has been so significant that, for a long time, I had no idea of what 2020 would look like.
Recently I had an exciting glimpse of the NBT (next big thing) at the 2014 Digital Education Show Asia (KL, Malaysia), where Dr Adam Gazzaley presented some very interesting and engaging content around the intersection of neuroscience and gaming (something tells me that I'll be blogging a great deal of his work). Coming out of research around cognitive function on multitasking and ageing, the groundbreaking research was able to both measure the impact of secondary tasks on a primary task over a spectrum of various ages, using a video game, and to then use this data to feed back into the participant's brain, directly working on measured deficits.
The initial research findings was able show that the negative impact of a secondary task on a primary task is around 25% for a 20 year old, but increases to close to 70% for a 70 year old. In other words, a 20 year old loses 25% efficiency with multitasking distraction whilst a 70 year old loses nearly two thirds in efficiency.
Once that the measurement of cognitive function could be made by the connection of brain-wave sensors to the test game, it became obvious that this data could be used in reverse to modify the game in order to exercise the brain, to strengthen the deficit 'wiring'. The data set on the right hand side of the graphic above shows the amazing (and I mean really, really amazing) gains made in the aged cohort: not only was their multitasking function restored to that measured by 20 year old participants, the improvement well exceeded the 'prime of life' participants. If that isn't enough (here come the steak knives), the improvement effect persisted strongly for the measured 6 months after the trial, after only one month of playing the game.
Two breakthrough innovations were used in this experiment. Firstly the instant measurement of brain activity whilst playing the game. Unlike all other brain training games, this game was able to measure the real time responses - and deficits - in the participant's brain. Secondly, and key here, this feedback data was fed into the game, allowing the game to adjust to the individual needs to the participant, with a focus on strengthening the deficits. These two elements create a low latency, highly targeted, closed feedback loop simply gazumps (pun apology) nearly every other intervention we know of. Most, if not all other interventions and systems (including the brain training fad) are not targeted, and are open feedback. In other words, the strategy does not know about the effect it is having on the brain...
Now this is clearly big news for a range of degenerative issues associated with ageing, but as Dr Gazzaley pointed out in the presentation, it is equally massive for education. This development, ready for mainstream use by domain specialists on or around 2019, is well past early research and into mature systems implementation. Far more effective than any drug we know, Gazzaley has appropriately coined this methodology as the New Medicine of the coming decade. Could it be possible that the days of Ritalin in school are numbered?
Remembering that this is all about video gaming as the primary vehicle, taking your medicine will never have been this much fun.
Videos to learn more: