The Science Behind the IntelliGym

The IntelliGym™ technology is based on a concept originally developed for Air Force pilots by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.)

The initial research was conducted by Prof. Daniel Gopher of the Technion in Israel, a world expert in cognitive science. Gopher and his colleagues thought they could train pilots' brains on land, using a cognitive simulator, or “cognitive trainer”, to the point where anticipating challenges in flight became completely instinctive.

The results were mind-boggling. The researchers identified a record improvement in flight performance - more than 30%, in two of the leading air forces in the world – for cadets who had undergone only 10 hours of focused attention training in Gopher’s simulated “game.” (Gopher, D., Weil, M, and Bareket, T. (1994): Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight, Human Factors, 36, 387-405)

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In another study, sponsored by NASA, cognitive scientists compared the results of the cognitive trainer Gopher’s team had developed (a very basic looking game called Space Fortress combined with a dedicated training program) to a sophisticated, pictorial and high-level-graphic and physical-fidelity-based computer simulation of the Apache helicopter. The result: the group of cadets who went through the cognitive training had 100% (!) graduation rate, while the group that went through high fidelity simulation had only 18%. (See: (1) Hart, Battiste. NASA-AmesResearchCenter:Field test of video game trainer (1992); (2) Gopher, Weil, Bareket. Fidelity revisited: The transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to actual flight (1991)).

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"What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from training environment to reality is that the training program ensures 'Cognitive Fidelity', this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world. Traditional approaches focus instead on physical fidelity, which may seem more intuitive, but less effective and harder to achieve."

Prof. Daniel Gopher

Following their success in aeronautics, Gopher’s team demilitarized the technology, further improved it, and incorporated Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE), in order to develop cognitive training systems for civil usages. ACE's patented technology, called Cognitive Simulation, is proven to increase trainees' performance in their profession or task by 20% – 40%. The first obvious frontier for ACE’s revolutionary technology was … Sports.

Down to Earth: From Fighter Pilots to Power Forwards

ACE soon developed The IntelliGym™, an online tool which uses Cognitive Simulation technology to improve players' performance in team sports. First up: Basketball. Starting with a study in the Wingate Sports Institute and moving on to train thousands of players in the US, the training program yielded remarkable results: improvement by tens of percents in a variety of basketball standard parameters and statistics (e.g. assists, turnovers, steals, field goal percentage, and rebounds). Moreover – the trained teams recorded remarkably higher win ratios.

Strangely enough, it was found that from a brain perspective, flying a jet is similar to playing hoops. Quick decision making under pressure, shot selection, anticipation, execution, team work and spatial orientation are all skills in common.

Professor Gopher noted regarding the reapplication of his original technology that most of our daily activities, and specifically most of sports related activities, involve executive control processes that are responsible for aspects such as planning and sequencing activities, focusing attention, selecting between environmental aspects, switching and dividing attention between different actions, and more.

Various studies have confirmed that the skill of attention control is a general skill that may be applied to many different settings. Specifically, it has been shown that if trained, such attention control skills could be transferred and generalized across different settings and different task requirements, as long as the tasks maintained the same processing modality. (Gopher, Armony & Greenshpan, 2000; Armony & Gopher, 2002).

In addition to demonstrating the training of attention control skills, these types of results indicate the importance of the cognitive resemblance between training and real task environment.

In order to develop a basketball cognitive training tool, the researchers mapped the brain skills that are required for top performance in the game of basketball. With this map in hand, ACE’s researchers designed a system that simulates the exact same skill set. Although the players are merely performing with a keyboard in front of a computer, if you screen the minds of the trainees, you’ll find that the skills (or the “brain muscles”) that are working are exactly those that are required during a real basketball game.

The training system is therefore designed as a tool that trains multiple cognitive skills in a unified and comprehensive task environment. Trainer components are mapped to the cognitive skills that were identified in the initial task analysis (following years of research on the sports field / court / arena) and are incorporated as integral parts into a computerized game.

Finally, ACE’s training philosophy emphasizes the cognitive fidelity of tasks (similar processing modalities, similar attention control requirements), and not their physical fidelity.

For more on ACE’s research background click here.

ACE's patented technology, called Cognitive Simulation, is proven to increase trainees' performance in their profession or task by 20% – 40%. The first obvious frontier for ACE’s revolutionary technology was … Sports.