08. Neuroscience

10 Fascinating Discoveries from NeuroTracker Research

July 7, 2022

NeuroTracker has been used in independent research by neuroscientists around the globe for well over a decade. A diversity of research approaches have led to some fascinating insights on how the brain influences human performance and wellness. This list of the NeuroTracker Team's top 10 most interesting discoveries demonstrates how this deceptively simple form of cognitive training can provide a unique window into brain function, as well as enhance human cognitive abilities in many surprising ways - enjoy!

1. ‘Enhancing Cognitive Function Using Perceptual-Cognitive Training’

The first on our list, this landmark NeuroTracker study selected the tool of qEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram) to dig into actual changes in neuroelectric brain function. qEEG works by measuring cycles of brain frequencies, yielding vast amounts of data. Healthy university students were selected as the study participants, who completed 36 distributed NeuroTracker sessions with pre-post qEEG and standardized neuropsychological assessments, to isolate changes in brain function specific to the training intervention.

The students increased their NeuroTracker speed threshold baselines by close to 100%, demonstrating a strong learning response. The neuropysche assessments showed clear and broad transfer to high-level cognitive functions, demonstrating that this form of training can enhance attention, information processing speed, and working memory.

Perhaps most interesting were the positive changes seen in the detailed qEEG data. This revealed positive and sustained increases in several types of brainwaves, including across brain regions outside the visual centers of the brain, similar to the effects of taking the ADHD medication Ritalin. In particular this included the frontal lobes, where executive functions and decision-making capacities reside.

For the first time this study revealed that an abstract visual training task can transfer widely and significantly to non-visual brain functions.

Read the study here

2. ‘3D-Multiple Object Tracking task performance improves passing decision-making accuracy in soccer players’

Far transfer in elite sports is notoriously rare. In a meta-review by German sports scientists of 1692 perceptual-cognitive training studies, only this study was deemed to provide reliable evidence of far transfer. In this NeuroTracker control + placebo study, just 3 hours of NeuroTracker training improved competitive soccer passing decision-making by +15%, effectively reducing passing errors by a whopping 40%.

Competitive soccer performance was objectively assessed by double-blind professional coaches via video recordings. In addition the soccer players themselves performed self-assessments, with remarkably close agreement between the assessment for the NeuroTracker trained group. Interestingly the placebo group, who were trained on 3D videos of FIFA matches, believed they had also improved, but the coaches observed no benefits.

One other interesting finding here is that NeuroTracker is an abstract and neutral training task, designed to build up cognitive capacities that are fundamental to human performance. Contrary to traditional sports science views, which hold that effective training requires a high degree of task similarity to end performance, this study demonstrated that training up core mental abilities may be the most effective way to achieve to success.

Read the study here

3. ‘Prior perceptual-cognitive training builds mental resistance during acute physical fatigue in professional rugby athletes’

Anyone who has competed in grueling team sports matches like rugby, soccer, football and so on, is acutely aware that when heavy physical fatigue kicks-ins towards the latter stages of competition, mental game-losing errors creep in surprisingly often. Similar to military performance in the field, it is well known that fatigue negatively impacts our ability to maintain focus and make sound decisions.

This study sought to investigate if these physically induced effects on cognition could be minimize with mental resilience training. To do this, two groups of equally elite rugby players were tested. The first group was untrained on NeuroTracker, while the second group was pre-trained (15 sessions). Both groups were then pushed to exhaustion on an exercise bike, maintaining a minimum of 80% of their maximum heartrate. While in an actively fatigued stated they completed a NeuroTracker baseline, with surprising results.

As expected, the cognitive performance of the untrained group dropped dramatically, with an effective loss of around 30% of their situational awareness. In contrast, the pre-trained rugby players exhibited virtually no loss of NeuroTracking performance (-0.03%). This exploratory study revealed that with elite athletes, the human brain can be quickly trained up to be remarkably resilient to the negative impacts of physical fatigue.

Read the study here

4. ‘Effects of 3D Multiple-Object Tracking on Off-the-Block Reaction Time in University of Victoria Varsity Swimmers’

When we think of athletic reaction times, we tend to think of agile physical abilities. However the speed at which the brain can process sensory cues becomes a significant factor in sports where the margins for winning come down to hundredths or thousandths of seconds. Swimming is one such sport where it is surprisingly common for medal positions to be decided in less than the time it takes to blink. As such professional swimmers commit serious amounts of training time to improving their reaction times off-the-block in order to shave all-important milliseconds off their overall race times.

For this reason researchers at the University of Victoria selected elite swimmers (including a world champion), to undergo NeuroTracker training to see if it could improve their sensory processing time in reaction to the starting gun. Using the latest technology to accurately measure off-the-block reaction times, untrained swimmers were pitted against NeuroTracker trained swimmers on pre- and post-training dive tests.

The control group showed negligible changes, while the NeuroTracker trained group experienced a significant gain in response time post-training. Although this only equated to literally 1 tenth of a second difference, it represented an 11% improvement in reaction time. This is way more substantial than traditional off-the-block intensive training programs, and in contrast this training intervention only spanned 90-minutes of training time.

In a follow-up article analysis by the lead researcher, this 0.1 second change in race results would have caused a total of 65 Olympic medals to have exchanged hands between the 1972 and 2004 Olympic Sprinting events (50 m – 200 m)!

Read the study here

5. ‘Enhancing learning in a perceptual-cognitive training paradigm using EEG-neurofeedback’

Neuropsychological and Neurofeedback expert Brendan Parsons teamed up with NeuroTracker inventor Professor Faubert to investigate if NeuroTracker learning rates could be accelerated with a novel 'closed-loop' approach to cognitive training. The goal was to use real-time Neurofeedback to iteratively amplify learning responses on a moment-by-moment basis throughout actual NeuroTracker training.

The idea is that if you use feedback to more accurately and rapidly adapt the exercise to a user’s needs, it triggers an altered cognitive state. Then the feedback can be used repeatedly to adjust the training continuously, and with progressively increasing accuracy, to facilitate a proximal zone of development. The key advantage of this concept is the acute nature of how it can adapt temporally, based on a person's responsive performance level, regardless of their variability in cognitive state.

Specifically this study utilized certain brainwaves signatures to reliably detect the moment when a person’s attention is either drifting-off during the NeuroTracker task, or when they have effectively lost track of the targets. At this point an automatic re-indexing technique kicked-in, where the software would kind of say, ‘Hey, you need to refocus right now - here are your targets’, at any precise moment there was a lapse in attention.

With training across 30 sessions, this method produced superior learning rates compared to conventional NeuroTracker training, which is already very effective. An active-control group using sham Neurofeedback (random signals), ruled out placebo effects. For the first time this study uncovered the synergistic potential of combining active cognitive training with closed-loop Neurofeedback.

Read the study here

6. ‘Examination of the Training Effect of the Three Dimensional Multiple Object Tracking Task on Community Dwelling Elderly’

Fall-risk in older adults is well known to be the major threat to health, and to longer term wellbeing following injury. Clinical researchers in Japan looked to see if balance related impairments and fall-risk could be reduced with a 3-hour cognitive intervention of NeuroTracker training. Before and after training, active and control participants (nursing home residents) underwent a comprehensive battery of validated fall-risk assessments.

Overall the active participants improved significantly on NeuroTracker scores (+32% increase in speed thresholds), demonstrating a clear learning response for this task in old age. The NeuroTracker group also experienced significant to large gains in post-test assessments on the Trail Making Test A, 5 meter walking time, Timed Get-up and Go test, and the Functional Reach Test. In contrast, controls experienced a moderate or significant decline across all tests, apart from 5 meter walking time.

As these measures correlate strongly to predictions of falling injuries, this study suggests that such risks could be significantly lowered with a short cognitive training intervention. It also correlates with other NeuroTracker research showing that brain function and motor-coordination are closely interconnected.

Read the study here (in Japanese)

7. ‘Professional athletes have extraordinary skills for rapidly learning complex and neutral dynamic visual scenes’

The last four studies on this list only focus on assessment of cognitive abilities (not training transfer), yet still reveal a fascinating window into the functioning of the human brain. In this landmark study, which was featured on the homepage of Nature.com, Professor Faubert sought to test a hypothesis that elite athletes are at the top of the game because their brains are hyper-plastic.

Neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to effectively rewire and grow new neural connections to improving learning, is not fixed - it can vary from individual to individual, as well as across different times in our lives. As NeuroTracker has negligible technique or practice-related effects, improvements in speed thresholds provide a reliable measure of functional learning response, which has also been correlated to levels of neuroplasticity through qEEG research.

A total of 175 elite professional athletes (NHL, EPL and Top 14 Rugby) and elite amateur athletes (NCAA) were assessed for learning rates over 15 NeuroTracker sessions. In addition, non-athlete university students were also assessed. As the NeuroTracker task is relatively abstract and non-context specific, the differences in learning rates represent differences in brain function, rather than any kind of familiarity with the task.

Elite professionals demonstrated much higher initial baselines, with elite amateurs and students starting out at a similar level. However, even with such high initial baselines, elite professionals' speed thresholds improved at a far higher rate than the elite amateurs, who in turn improved much faster than university students.

Featured across media internationally, these results showed that elite athletes are far from the stereotype of 'dumb jocks', and instead have unusually high levels of neuroplasticity. Further research is needed, but this study suggests that having a highly adaptive brain that can learn new tasks very rapidly, may be one of the key prerequisites for becoming a top performing athlete.

Read the study here

8. ‘Visual tracking speed is related to basketball-specific measures of performance in NBA players’

This fairly straight-forward study examined if cognitive assessments could predict the statistical performance of an NBA team over the course of a season's play. Just a single 6-minute NeuroTracker session was used as a benchmark at the outset of the season, to see if this measure correlated with official NBA performance stats.

Assist-to-turnover ratios, steals and turnovers all correlated strongly with NeuroTracker speed thresholds (Visual Tracking Speed). Backcourt players were most likely to outperform frontcourt players in Assist-to-turnover ratios, and very likely to do so for higher NeuroTracker baselines. In conclusion, the higher the 1-session NeuroTracker baseline, the more likely the NBA basketball players would see and respond to various stimuli on the basketball court, resulting in more positive plays.

Read the study here

9. ‘Perceptual-Cognitive & Physiological Assessment of Training Effectiveness’

In a collaborative research project, the Faubert Lab, the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Lab, the University of Montreal, and Rockwell Collins (avionics and simulation training company), partnered their fields of expertise to come up with an innovative way to assess the mental loads of flying.

In an experimental combination of man-machine technology, an Aero Vodochody L-29 jet plane had a NeuroTracker system integrated into the dashboard and pilots were hooked up with eye tracking and ECG equipment.

The purpose of the setup was to have jet pilots perform three different difficulty levels of flight maneuvers in both simulated and live flight. During these maneuvers the pilots performed NeuroTracker as a secondary task in order to measure what level of 'spare cognitive capacity' was left over from the demands flying the jet plane. As hypothesized, live flight was much more demanding than simulated flight, but only for the more difficult maneuvers such as barrel rolls. For the most difficult flight tasks, spare cognitive capacity was almost completely saturated during live flight, yet not significantly taxed in the simulator.

This innovative study showed the limitations of simulated training for flights skills, which lack the high degree of physical stress on both the body and mind in live jet flight.

Read the study here

10. ‘Driving simulator scenarios and measures to faithfully evaluate risky driving behavior: A comparative study of different driver age groups’

Our last study on this list combined a standard NeuroTracker baseline assessment with highly sophisticated assessments of simulated driving abilities. 115 drivers of different ages and level of driving experience undertook 2 hours of simulated driving tests. This included low, medium and high levels of driving workload, including exposure to random high-risk events. Each participant was assess across 18 different measures of specific driving skills.

Analysis revealed that NeuroTracker scores were a very good predictor of overall driving performance, somewhat surprisingly being much more reliable than age or level of driving experience. Perhaps most importantly, lower NeuroTracker baselines effectively predicted elevated risks of crashes. More specifically, NeuroTracker data predicted the steering rate and the distance at which large steering reactions were made in order to evade accidents.

The findings, replicated in other studies, showed that a simple and abstract cognitive assessment can be a valuable measure of driving safety across different types of drivers.

Read the study here

If you are interested in exploring more NeuroTracker research, then check out our science summaries.

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