NeuroTracker scores have been found to reveal elite athletes, show the effects of age on cognitive functions, indicate injury status, and much more. Here we’ll look at what NeuroTracker scores represent, and how they can be used to assess human performance.
The NeuroTracker Task
A NeuroTracker session takes about 6 minutes to complete. It involves putting on 3D glasses and performing a series of 20 mini-tests, called ‘trials’. In each trial, you distribute your mental focus on the red targets and track them all as they move among distractors. Then you identify your targets by mouse click, or by entering numbers via a keyboard. Get them all correct and the next trial will go faster, get any wrong, and it slows down.
Speed is the critical element for adapting cognitive load to each individual optimal training level. NeuroTracker quickly zones into what is called a ‘speed threshold’ – the level at which you can track all the targets successfully around 50% of the time. The speed threshold calculations also provide the result for each NeuroTracker session, based on data from key trials.
For example, a NeuroTracker session score could be 1.5. This means that when the targets reach that speed, the individual’s ability to maintain track of them will typically start to break down. In effect, it represents an upper limit for 3D Multiple Object Tracking speed.
Although the task is a virtual simulation, the speed of the balls represents a real-world speed across the user’s field of view, measured as 68 centimeters-per-second at speed 1.0. This requires viewing at a specific distance to the 3D display relative to its size so that a consistent field of view is experienced each time.
What the Score Represents
The NeuroTracker score itself is established in the neuroscience literature as a high-level measure of attentional capacity. This means that the higher your score is, the better your attention. It’s a high-level measure because performing NeuroTracker requires using and integrating several different types of attention.
- Distributed or Divided Attention – similar to multi-tasking, tracking several targets at the same time requires allocating attentional resources separately to each individual target.
- Selective Attention – because there are many decoys vying for your attention, selective attention is required to focus attention away from the ‘distractors’ and keep it fixed on the real targets.
- Sustained Attention – mental focus must be distributed continuously across time, a split second lapse and the targets will be lost.
- Attention Stamina – concentration must be maintained across twenty mini-tests per session, and across different sessions when performing them back-to-back.
As well as a direct measure of attention, NeuroTracker speed thresholds have been shown through many research studies to correlate with other high-level cognitive functions, including executive functions, working memory and processing speed. They also correlate with many areas of human performance, for instance, one study showed that score predicted on-court performance statistics of NBA players across a season.
Finally, they are known to clearly differentiate certain populations, for example showing that older and younger people have lower scores than young-middle aged adults, that elite athletes have superior scores and learning rates to non-athletes, and that people who have cognitive conditions such as neurodevelopmental disorders have lower scores than healthy people. This also includes the effects of concussions.
Establishing a Baseline
Typically 3 sessions are used to establish a cognitive baseline, which requires around 20 minutes of NeuroTracker training. If these are the first sessions an individual has performed, it provides an ‘Initial Baseline’ – a reference to cognitive condition but the effects of training kick in, and also a starting point from which learning rate can be measured with further training.
A ‘Current Baseline’ is based on the last three sessions an individual has completed, which can be used to show learning effects when compared to an initial baseline. For example, improving from a baseline of 1.0, to 1.5, would represent a 50% improvement in learning. Because the NeuroTracker task is almost devoid of practice or technique related effects, this improvement represents a raw improvement in brain functions for this task. Research shows that larger gains in learning provide increased transfer effects to high-level cognitive functions and human performance, such as improving passing decision-making skill in soccer competitions.
What ‘Learning Rate’ Reveals
15-30 sessions are typically used to evaluate an individual’s learning rate. Rather than how high or low and scores are, the key factor is how much relative improvement is achieved over the sessions. A high learning rate is associated with high levels of neuroplasticity, meaning that the brain better prepared to adapt in response to the mental demands placed on it.
A landmark NeuroTracker study published Nature Scientific Reports showed that elite athletes have brains with superior capacities for learning, which could be a critical factor as to why they can achieve such high levels of performance on the sports field. Professor Faubert, the inventor of NeuroTracker explained the meaning of this for world-class athletes,
“The fact that they are there…is because they are more plastic. I think that’s one of the criteria. You would think that this brain is optimal at the highest competitive level, that it’s reached its maximum potential. But maybe they are there because they can acquire new potential so much more rapidly and so more efficiently.”
Neuroplasticity is also known to be a key factor in brain health, with reduced plasticity being a related factor for increased risks of cognitive conditions such as dementia in older populations.
If you’d like to learn more about the concepts or science of NeuroTracker, you can listen to Professor Faubert introduce the technology here.
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