Oculus Rift – The World’s Most Powerful Brain Training Tool?

By on May 14, 2014

oculus rift and razor hydra

As it happens, computer games are fantastic for brain training. For years people have been bashing them and telling us they’re no good for us, but if you actually look at the studies those people are in fact overwhelmingly wrong.

Computer games are not bad for your eyes. Did you know that? This myth was based on the observation that kids who wore glasses sat closer to the television. It turned out that they sat closer to the television because they wore glasses. Correlation does not establish causality people! Likewise, computer games do not cause aggression in those who are not already aggressive. So that is also wrong.

Meanwhile though, computer games have been shown to improve goal-oriented behaviour, attention, concentration, reaction-time, spatial awareness, mood, social skills (for online gaming), confidence, problem-solving, abstract reasoning and even visual acuity. It turns out that looking out for enemies on those cloudy N64 games actually might have made you better at spotting and identifying distant objects.

The Promise of Games for Brain Training

Bear in mind though that this kind of brain training is task-specific. So to improve reactions you need to play a fast game, while a puzzle game is what you want for that abstract reasoning. I play Sonic all the time, which is probably why my reactions are BOSS. It’s also why I was single until I was 21.

Here’s a game I made for Android that teaches ambidexterity…

Essentially what computer games provide you with is a digital playground where you can hone a number of real-world skills. And to me this is an area that hasn’t been properly explored. One aspect of my mental performance I know that I want to improve for instance is my ability to quickly think of the next thing to say in a conversation. Imagine a game then that would use speech recognition with a realistic setting and task you with coming up with quick witty retorts to insults. This game could quite possibly make you much sharper and wittier in real life… which would be awesome.

The Next Level: Virtual Reality

Now imagine if that game was for the Oculus Rift and used virtual reality to make you feel like you were really there. This would create a far more realistic setting that might provide the brain with more cues to fool it into thinking it was important for it to perform and learn. As a result you might see much more profound changes in the brain resulting in even better performance enhancement. There’s actually already a public speaking demo available for the Rift (which I’ve tried out) though the currently poor resolution of the first development kit means you don’t quite get that essential sense of presence.

But that’s kid stuff anyway…

For the past few years scientists have been well-aware of the amazing adaptive potential of the human brain and it’s much greater than anyone thought it was. Neurogenesis – the birth of new nerve cells – was found to be possible in adults and brain imaging shows us how the brain of a cellist completely transforms itself to give that individual better dexterity and acuity in their fingertips. This is called brain-plasticity and it essentially means that your brain will adapt to the pressures placed on it – just like a muscle.

How Virtual Reality Could Make Us Think Faster

In fact our brains are only the way they are because of the reality we find ourselves in. As babies our brains are essentially blank slates, and they then evolve and adapt to fit their surroundings. As we grow older our brains continue to evolve and change as we present them with new challenges, though they aren’t quite as flexible as they are when we’re younger (there are a number of interesting reasons for this…).

The point I’m trying to make though, is that virtual reality allows us to change our reality – to fool our brain into thinking the world is a different way and that it has to adapt.

Now imagine you were to play a game that felt and looked just like real life, except it was sped up so that everything moved a fraction quicker. Your brain would then get used to responding faster, thinking faster and making decisions faster. Just as you feel like you’re driving at a snail’s pace when you come off the motorway, so you would then feel like everyone was moving in slow motion around you when you took off your Rift.

Train this way often enough and could you eventually increase your operating speed to greatly surpass everyone else’s around you? And if your thoughts were moving twice as quickly, would your perception of time slow down such that you would subjectively experience a longer life?

This is just one possible way that the Occulus Rift could be used for insane brain training and there are doubtless countless others. In fact I’m working on one of those ideas right now, so stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, how do you think the Rift could be used to enhance our brains? And what about fitness? Let me know in the comments below!

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