#138: Aldis Sipolins on VR videogame-based brain training to enhance cognition with Cerevrum

Aldis-SipolinsAldis Sipolins says that brain training is broken, and that VR can help to fix it. He suspects that how our brains work while being immersed within virtual environments more closely resembles how they work within real life. But at this point, it’s really difficult to prove that doing brain training tasks within a 2D context would “transfer” to improving overall cognitive skills. Aldis hopes to change that with his VR brain training game called Cerevrum, which has a tagline of “Not training. Learning.”

Aldis is finishing his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and he’s been researching videogame-based brain training to enhance cognition. He was giving demos of his Cerevrum game at SVVRCon, and he hopes to eventually be able to scientifically show that doing these types of brain training exercises within VR will have benefits that are transferrable to our every day lives.

Aldis was hesitant to hype up any capabilities of Cerevrum because it’s at this point largely unproven. He’d actually prefer to not refer to it as a brain training application, but rather a game that will be able to captivate other hardcore gamers like himself. If it’s not fun to play, then it’s ultimately not going to succeed within the initial audience of gamers. He identifies as a hardcore gamer himself, and so he wants to create a game that’s both cognitively challenging and fun.

He says that given the choice to do something that we’re good at versus something we’re bad at, then we’ll usually choose to do what we’re good at. By using advanced machine learning on the backend of Cerevrum, he hopes that the game will be able to detect the area where we’re weak and then help us improve on it. Eventually we’ll be able to quantify our abilities in these different cognitive areas and be able to compare yourself with your friends.

To me what Aldis is doing with Cerevrum is one of the most exciting possibilities of the potential of virtual reality. He says that our brains display the most neuroplasticitiy while we’re in a flow state, and so being completely immersed & engaged within a game within a virtual environment might have the capability to rewire and expand the capacity of our brains in a way that transfers into our everyday lives. The potential cognitive improvements will be different for every person, and he’s looking forward to continuing to develop the game and do the research necessary to scientifically validate it’s effectiveness.

Here’s a video trailer from the Cerevrum site:

Aldis said that Palmer Luckey tried out the game and made it to Wave #14 in the game, and that he really enjoyed playing it.

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