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Realistic Learning Environments Best for the Brain?

At the time of writing, researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have just published results proving what was long suspected by common sense: past experience really does help when we have to make complex decisions based on uncertain or confusing information.

Really, that should not have needed a study to prove, but the work is done now, and is a definite boon for those trying to pursuade for the use of immersive VR, as a training tool for physical world situations.

The more immersive an interface, and the more senses it immerses and fools, the more realistic the situation presents itself as. If you are looking for the best way to evaluate a dangerous, or time critical decision, the best basis for making that decision is past experience.

It is very difficult to recreate having a gun pointed at you, or a drunken lout with a knife attacking you, without real risk of personal harm or death in the training exercise. Of course, VR systems are already used in those situations, to recreate complex, and life threatening situations in a way which does not provide physical harm. Both military and law enforcement agencies increasingly use this method.

Mining and drilling operations also increasingly use VR to train where the physical conditions being trained for, are unwise to duplicate, and for the same reasons. In industry, such as for example, welding, precise, multi-sensory simulators are used to replicate the feel, the sight, even the smell of welding, without a hot torch ever touching metal. Again and again actions can be undertaken, with no risk, no mess, and no waste.

The researchers from the University of Birmingham put this into context, when they discovered that when brains were analysed, before and after learning sessions, the structured learning actually caused the brain to reorganise, and rewire itself, so that the learning becomes categorised, and when the same or a similar situation is accessed later, those categorised circuits are activated.

That means, that the closer to the actual event, or expected working environment the simulation is, the more likely the training is to be subconsciously applied.

"What we've shown is that we don't just get better at the task of picking out a familiar face amongst a crowd, for example. Our results tell us that previous experience can train circuits in our brains to recognise perceived categories rather than simply the physical similarity between visual patterns," said Dr Kourtzi, the lead researcher of the BBSRC work.


Learning Shapes the Representation of Behavioral Choice in the Human Brain

Brain research shows past experience is invaluable for complex decision making

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