02. Experts Corner

NeuroTracker Under the Hood

October 27, 2023

NeuroTracker is a very simple yet surprisingly challenging cognitive exercise. Over 100 independently published studies have shown it to be remarkably effective for assessing cognitive abilities and improving them through training. For example, one meta-review of 1600+ studies deemed NeuroTracker to be the only cognitive training technique that achieved reliable far transfer effects in elite athletic performance. Another study showed that just 90 minutes of training significantly improved fine motor skills in elderlies with cognitive impairments. Which leaves the elephant in the room question - how can watching balls bouncing around a screen be such an effective technique? To answer that question, let's take a look under the hood of the Core NeuroTracker exercise, and in the process reveal the scientific design that emerged out of 25+ years of psychophysics research at the Faubert Lab in the University of Montreal.

Introducing the Exercise

For those that are not already familiar, NeuroTracker is a 3D multiple object tracking exercise that challenges users to mentally follow a number of targets moving dynamically in 3D space amid distractors. A session comprises 20 trials, or mini-tests, and takes about 6 minutes to complete. Depending on whether the user succeeds or fails at accurately tracking and then identify the targets, the speed of the trials adjusts based on an algorithm that pushes each person near their own upper limits. The speeds achieved at key points in the session is then used to calculate the session score, aptly named a 'speed threshold'.

Here is a short video intro to the exercise.

NeuroTracker's Unique Characteristics

So, although it looks like a case of simply tracking bouncing balls, there are 5 aspects to the design of this exercise that cause it to elicit the integrated use of many different cognitive systems in the brain, all at the same time. Let's check them out.

1. Stereo 3D

Technically termed 'binocular stereo 3D', the brain uses the difference in perspective between each eye and effectively applies trigonometry to accurately judge depth and the distances of objects, as well as the relative velocity of objects moving away or towards us. This is the true heavy lifting performed by the visual cortex, and accordingly is always the last aspect of vision to be processed.

Simulation of the same 3D cognitive systems we use in the real world is done by wearing NeuroTracker anaglyph 3D glasses with a standard computer, TV or tablet display, or via a dedicated 3D display such as a 3D projector or a VR head mounted display such as the Meta Quest. The stimulation of this type of 3D is key for a few reasons.

- It is ecologically relevant because we rely on binocular 3D heavily in our daily lives, particularly in sports (just try catching a ball with one eye closed).

- As it is a high-level visual system, it is believed to be important in stimulating multiple brain regions outside the visual cortex, potentially including decision-making abilities in the frontal lobes (indicated with NeuroTracker qEEG research).

- Living in the digital age we likely greatly underutilize binocular 3D due to extensive amounts of time acutely focused on 2D displays like smartphones, TVs and personal computers. Due to the nature of neuroplasticity, cognitive systems under-utilized tend to become weaker over time, often summed up as 'use it or lose it'. For children and youth whose brains are very much still going through neurodevelopment, this may be especially important in terms of long term effects. Preliminary research with NeuroTracker shows that youngsters have lower binocular 3D abilities, compared to adults.

2. Wide Field of View

When we focus our visual attention on our peripheral view visual processing demands are heightened, causing a greater number of neurons to become activated. Compared to our hunter-gather ancestors, our peripheral vision is much less taxed in modern times, for example it is needed very little when indoors. However peripheral vision is really important when it comes to navigating complex outside spaces, such as when driving a car, riding a bike, walking in busy places, or playing team sports.

Training with a wide field of view with NeuroTracker provides a demanding form of mental exercise and can improve peripheral vision abilities for real-world needs.

3. Speed Thresholds

As we mentioned earlier, NeuroTracker adaptively adjusts the speed processing demands of the task to each person's limits - a patented 'secret sauce'. This aspect is critical for optimizing the learning benefits of training, which is exceedingly efficient with dozens of studies showing 3 hours or less of distributed training provides robust cognitive benefits. For instance a soccer study showed that this amount training reduced passing decision-making errors in competitive play by nearly 40%!

The efficiency of this training transfer is superior to any other cognitive technique in the scientific literature. It also boosts motivation to train, as most people experience large increases in their tracking speed with training over time.

4. Multiple Object Tracking

As you may have noticed from the video demo above, it is surprisingly difficult to visually track more than thing at once. From a neuroscience perspective this referred to as divided or distributed attention. Attention is a shared resource in the brain for all kinds of sensory processing and thought processes. It is also unexpectedly limited in terms of bandwidth when it is divided.

For example studies show that when people are asked to count down from 100 in 7s while walking down the street, they almost always stop walking. This is because the attentional resources used in walking are shared with resources used for arithmetic. By challenging ourselves at the upper limits of divided attention we can cause numerous systems in the brain to be co-activated. As such the demands of multiple object tracking are a central factor in the far transfer effects of NeuroTracker training.

5. Visual Pivot Training

In the center of the NeuroTracker exercise environment there is a small dot, called a visual pivot. This provides a focal anchor point to keep the eyes calmly centered while distributing visual attention to the periphery. Sometimes referred to as the 'quiet eye' technique in pro sports, this is a training technique established in sports science research as useful to help people consciously guide their visual attention in an optimal way.

The key is simply moving the eyes less, so that deeper visual processing of scenes can occur. This is partly because when our eyes move around rapidly our vision becomes blurred, and accordingly the visual centers of the brain temporarily shut down. Once this visual pivot technique is practiced in a structured way it can enhance the amount of visual information we can process at any given moment, increasing our situational awareness.


Hopefully you've learned that NeuroTracker has a lot more under the hood than what appears on the surface. It's unique combination of 5 different science-based design features allow it to be extremely accessible, yet highly challenging. It also makes this type of exercise very effective for measuring and improving high-level cognitive abilities that we heavily rely on in many different types of real-world performance.

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