REAKT Performance Trainer Review – The Most Effective Brain Training Tool Yet? (Oculus Quest)

By on February 1, 2021

In this REAKT Performance Trainer review, I’ll explain the theory behind the app and let you know whether it’s worth investing your time and money. The short version? This is the approach to brain training that I feel has been missing.

REAKT Performance Trainer (Oculus Store link) is a brain training program for the Oculus Quest and Quest 2 that is designed to improve reaction times, decision making, focus, hand-eye coordination, and visual acuity. Unlike other brain training programs that are bound to a 2D display, it has the potential to be genuinely transformative for both athletes and “regular folk.”

REAKT Performance Trainer review

In fact, REAKT Performance Trainer is so good in concept that I’m annoyed at the developers (NeuroTrainer)! I had already begun work on an extremely similar project for the Quest 2, which now feels a little redundant (fortunately it was in the extremely early phases).

Here’s what it can do for you and why it’s a potential game-changer.

REAKT Performance Trainer Review – The Basics

To “play” REAKT Performance Trainer, the user is placed inside a dome (similar to the aesthetic used in Racket: NX, another very good game for the Quest). From here, you are tasked with tracking a number of floating objects that each fire one of two types of projectile. These are balls to be blocked, or bombs that must be dodged. Each object will light up briefly before firing its respective projectile.

REAKT Performance Trainer Oculus Quest

This alone should challenge reflexes and hand-eye coordination to an extent. But the quirk is that the bombs approach too quickly to be dodged. Squeezing the trigger on either controller will slow down the movement of the bomb but, because all objects are identical in appearance, doing this requires you to constantly track the movement of the bomb-firers. This is the only way you can react quickly enough to slow time. Squeeze the trigger when a non-combatant is firing, and you will be penalized.

When blocking objects, you are also scored on accuracy. Whenever a ball heads your way you’ll see an outline appear showing you precisely where you should be holding the shield. The more central your block is, the more points you score; rewarding hand-eye coordination.

Oculus Touch Controller

More Features

There are variations of this game that involve tracking objects without blocking, for example. But the main game is where all your skills are challenged at once.

As well as practice, you’ll also be entered into contest rounds where your scores will be added to a leaderboard. This is designed not only to create a sense of progress as you see yourself climb the rankings (or not), but also to apply a little pressure to proceedings – just like a real competition environment.

Data Tracking

Perhaps the best feature, though, is the data tracking. As you play, you’ll be shown lots of information regarding your reaction times, which aspects of your visual field you are quickest to respond to, the accuracy of both hands, and more.

Bioneer Reaction Times

All this means that you can see actual improvements in your performance. The game will then ramp up the difficulty as you progress. This offers a much-needed form of progressive overload; a key component of any training program.

I’ve learned some interesting things about my own performance, too. For example: my left hand is actually quicker than my right! My reaction times are pretty good though, so it’s nice to see my previous training is paying off!

What REAKT Performance Trainer Does Differently

While this might sound like a fun distraction, the point of this REAKT Performance Trainer review is to address what all that is actually doing for you. There is a LOT of great stuff going on here.

The problem with conventional brain training apps, is that often don’t provide “near transfer.” While you might get better at playing the mini game, that doesn’t always translate to improved memory, reaction times, creativity etc. in the real world.

The reason for this may be that we are multisensory creatures. We live in a three dimensional world where we are forced to integrate visual, sensory, and kinesthetic information into a single moment of perception. This must then be contextualized by our experiences immediately prior and long-term.

See also: Cognitive Training – Is Brain Training Effective for Sports, Productivity, and General Performance?

Conventional brain training is far removed from this reality. Instead, brain training games tend to focus on a single sense with no movement. Remembering a few digits on a screen is not the same thing as remembering the positions of other players, a ball, and a goal all while running in the other direction. Mental faculties such as working memory work best in a multisensory environment.

The Power of Movement

It’s the addition of movement that is the most important point, though. Movement is a cognitively taxing process that involves countless data points and precise alterations. Prominent neuroscientist, Daniel Wolpert, believes that the brain evolved for movement. He points out that although our best AIs are now capable of beating chess masters, we have yet to develop a robot that can match even a toddler in terms of coordination and movement.

See also: The Brain, Movement, and Training

Brain and body training should not be separate; the entire system is designed to be used as a whole.

This gives REAKT Performance Trainer such HUGE potential to stand out among other brain trainers. It’s also why I wanted to write a REAKT Performance Trainer and illustrate some of the benefits that other reviewers may miss.

See also: Coordination for Strength and Power

How it Works

Simply by immersing the player in a 3D space and asking them to move, REAKT is ahead of its peers. But it’s what it does in that space that will make or break it. Fortunately, there are a ton of smart decisions here.

REAKT Performance Trainer review

Tracking all the moving objects at once requires you to engage your peripheral vision. This has potential to improve visual acuity – something that has also been shown to be true for first person action games (study). The difference is that REAKT Performance Trainer envelopes your entire FOV, working the receptors at the edges of the eyes. These also happen to have a quicker route to the brain, allowing for more rapid reaction times. I’ve discussed many additional benefits of engaging peripheral vision in the past: it may even help to put us in a flow state.

Visual Processing and Object Tracking

Tracking moving objects in 3D is also one of the primary skills required by athletes. This allows them to be more aware of the state of play and to react more quickly and effectively as a result. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of 3D-multiple object tracking tasks to improve decision making in athletes (study). In fact, 3D object tracking tasks are often used as a measure of cognitive flexibility. Moreover, the process of playing sports appears to improve this ability to track objects. Playing sports makes you better at thinking quickly and I have even wondered if this could explain the stereotypical differences between “jocks and nerds,” in terms of verbal fluency and wit.

As the study authors put it:

“Professional athletes have extraordinary skills for rapidly learning complex and neutral dynamic visual scenes.”

REAKT Performance Trainer offers this in spades.

Action Inhibition

The Simon Task is another activity that has been shown to improve athletic performance and decision making. The Simon Task requires participants to make different physical responses to different stimuli. One study found that this could improve a lacrosse player’s ability to quickly target the optimal part of the goal during play (study).

Again, REAKT offers something akin to this by forcing you to quickly decide between blocking or dodging objects. This requires attention, decision making, reaction times, and even action suppression. Action inhibition is the ability to decide not to react to a stimulus. If you’ve ever played slaps and been penalized for moving your hand early, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Likewise playing “snap” with cards and slamming your hand down early.

Hand-eye coordination

Action inhibition  is one skill that isn’t as effectively trained by regular video games (study). That’s because most games don’t overly punish the player for shooting at the wrong time (of course, this depends on the game – something many study authors fail to recognize!).

Action inhibition could help a player to avoid falling for feints!

In sports, action inhibition could help a player to avoid falling for feints!

This is explicitly trained, as squeezing the trigger for a ball you’re meant to block will lose points.

As a Meditative Practice

All of this requires a large amount of focus and concentration. If you let your mind wander even for a moment, you will lose track of the enemy objects and they will be lost in the crowd (after you’ve been hit, you’ll be given a moment to locate them before they all go blank again).

This large amount of focus requires mental discipline and could give REAKT many of the same benefits of meditation or even Dual N-Back training. In a recent post, I explained that many of the benefits of traditional “directive” forms of meditation arise from the practice of focusing attention on something that isn’t hugely engaging.

Brain and body training

The best evidence that you can get the benefits of meditation through other means is a study that found practicing mental math was able to improve emotional control and combat depression (study).

See also: Different Types of Meditation for Focus, Control, and Creativity

Working Memory

Focus is closely linked to working memory – our ability to hold and manipulate information in our “visuospatial scratchpad.” Theoretically then, this could lead to a much wider range of cognitive skills. I’ve only played the game a few times, but I’ve occasionally noticed my ability to slow down bombs that I didn’t even realize I was tracking! The brain is amazing.

virtual reality brain training

What’s more, is that you must sustain this level of concentration even as you begin to face physical and mental fatigue. This psychomotor vigilance can be the difference between victory and failure for athletes, according to JC Santana from the Institute of Human Performance. In other words, if an athlete begins to lose concentration as they tired, they are much more likely to make a mistake/get hit/miss the shot.

REAKT requires focus for the entire duration of each exercise.

REAKT Performance Trainer Review Conclusion

Okay, time to sum up this REAKT Performance Trainer review.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The presentation could do with just a little work in some areas, the voiceover is very robotic and there is a visible “seam” in the backdrop of the menu screen (though this is at least partly due to limitations in the Oculus Quest hardware).

Oculus Quest 2 Headset

The game is also just a little bit dull. If you’re looking for an exercise that is so enjoyable it doesn’t feel like work, this isn’t quite it. The lure to play Half-Life: Alyx instead is strong! Perhaps the sound design and graphics could be spruced up a little in future to make this feel just a bit more like a game. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had though, and it’s certainly leagues more enjoyable than dual n-back tests!

The bottom line of this REAKT Performance Trainer review, though, is that it genuinely could improve athletic performance according to the science and the studies. This could, likewise, have many benefits outside of sports training too: greater vigilance and attention when driving, lower incidence of household accidents, and better performance in a crisis.

Utility for Professional Athletes

This type of training is only just becoming more commonplace among professionals. Drills to train mental faculties primarily involve running between targets, respond to commands, or dribbling balls. REAKT has the potential to be superior to these tools thanks to its ability to measure progress and display detailed data.

Brain training ball

It would be reckless to make such claims at this point; the app has only just released! But the design is excellent and I have every reason to believe it could work. My only concerns are related to the lack of true marriage between proprioception and visual information that is inherent to VR, and differences in the way the eyes focus on objects. As long as this is a supplement to training and in no way replaces real-world practice, I don’t anticipate this being a big issue.

The app says that, after a few weeks, you might start to notice gameplay “slow down” in sports as your decision making and visual processing improve. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I’ll be using it and I’ll update this post to let you know how it works out for me.

What I Would Love to See

As it is, REAKT Performance Trainer is a brilliant shining beacon in a sea of brain training software. This is the brain training app I have wanted for a long time.

But there is more I would selfishly love to see from the program.

Here are just a few things for my wish list:

  • More game modes – So far, all activities are variations on the same theme. More game modes could target different cognitive skills more precisely (such as working memory – perhaps n-back could be incorporated?) and they could prevent things from growing stale. Moreover, learning new rules and actions on a regular basis could do wonders for keeping the brain plastic and preventing adaptation.
  • Human avatars – The “enemies” are currently just moving blocks. I’d love these to be replaced with animated human avatars with motion capture – perhaps for another task. This might be a big ask of a small studio, but athletic training is linked to development of the STS – a brain region linked to social cues and motion perception. In other words, . Better yet? Visible human competition.
  • A little more room for creativity and expression in tasks.
  • The ability to import music.
  • A little more physical exercise. If the program was combined with punching and squatting/lunging in some modes, this would allow the individual to train body and mind TOGETHER. This is the holy grail, as far as I’m concerned. Not only that, but it would push psychomotor vigilance even further, as you would be physically fatigued and still required to perform mentally.

I really hope that Neurotrainer continues to develop this product, as it’s a really great tool. As it is, I recommend it whole heartedly – with the caveat that I’ll be back soon to report on my own progress. This REAKT Performance Trainer review is not over!

Fun fact: I actually discussed another brain training app in VR a long time ago called Ceverum. In the time since, the website has been replaced with a VR program for training soft skills!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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