Brain training to improve driving skills using video games, for teens and older adults

Last month at an MIT event in Northern California, we discussed specific applications that could take computer-based brain training to a new level, highlighting its potential to test and improve driving skills.

Assessing and improving driving skills would be a top contender, given both the well-defined nature of the need and the emergence of programs with growing evidence (both scientific and real-world).

In this sense, the New York Times just published an article titled “Are You a Good Driver? Here’s How to Find Out”. A few quotes:

– “Can a video game make you a better driver? More importantly, can computer software prevent teenagers from making fatal mistakes or even eradicate older drivers whose weaknesses are prone to crashes?”

– “There are already programs like AAA’s Roadwise Review (about $15), which are designed to help older people evaluate their driving.”

– “There are other programs that test mental agility and then use computer training sessions to improve a driver’s skills. One such program is an online application called DriveFit ($89), which was developed by CogniFit, an Israeli company that specializes in is in cognitive training software. DriveFit uses visual and memory tests to measure 12 driving-related cognitive skills.”

A question we often get when we talk to insurance companies: “Can we really train drivers to act smarter behind the wheel”? Well, it depends on what “smarter” means (we’re not aware of any brain training programs to get drivers to avoid alcohol or sleep-inducing drugs before driving), but there’s growing evidence that specific cognitive skills important to driving, can, indeed, be trained, resulting in better driving results.

An important research reference: the published studies of Dr. Karlene Ball and Dr. Jerry Edwards. We were lucky enough to have Dr. Edwards recently, and this was what she had to say when I asked her for the results of their 2003 Human Factors paper (Roenker, D., Cissell, G., Ball, K., Wadley, V., & Edwards, J. (2003) Speed ​​of processing and driving simulator training result in improved driving performance Human Factors, 45: 218-233):

– “Our goal was to train what is called the “useful field of view”. The usable field of view is a measure of processing speed and visual attention that is essential for driving performance, and one of the areas that declines with age. It has previously been shown that this skill can be improved with training, so we wanted to see what effect it would have on the driving performance of older adults and whether the training would be more or less effective than a traditional driving simulation course.

– For the study, we divided forty-eight adults over the age of fifty-five into two intervention groups of twenty-four persons each. Each group received twenty hours of training. One group was exposed to a traditional driving simulator, where they learned specific driving behaviour. The other has gone through the cognitive training program.

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– The driving performance of both groups improved immediately after their respective programs, but most of the benefits of the driving simulator disappeared by month eighteen.

– The speed-of-processing intervention not only helped the participants improve the ‘useful field of view’, the skill that was trained directly, but it was also transformed into real driving, and the results were maintained after 18 months. And besides, the evaluation was as real as you can imagine: an evaluation of a 14-mile open road.

– Higher processing speed appeared to allow adults to better respond to unexpected events requiring a quick response and to reduce by 40% the number of dangerous maneuvers on real roads (defined as those requiring the training instructor to intervene during the evaluation).”

Note: The program used in that study, called Visual Awareness, was recently acquired by Posit Science Corporation.

In short, more likely than not, I would answer YES to the question used to open the New York Times article. A well-designed video game CAN make someone a better driver.

This is, of course, an emerging field and much more research needs to be done before applications become mainstream, but the field certainly deserves more attention, research dollars, and involvement from insurance companies to design and conduct field trials.

Allstate: What about spending just a fraction of your scary ad campaign budget exploring additional potential solutions?

Copyright (c) 2008 SharpBrains