Brainwell® Blog

Ski Spree and the Neuroscience of Attention

What does it mean to be alert?  Neuropsychologists define alertness as a state of pronounced sensory awareness coupled with a readiness to act quickly based on our perceptions.  This capacity evolved over millennia, allowing early humans to recognize and avoid predators and similar threats in the wild.  

Though most of us don't have to worry about such dangers anymore, waiters, air traffic controllers, truck drivers, surgeons, teachers and parents all know how vital it is to have a high capacity for alertness in the modern world.  Whether you're merging on to the freeway or conducting a symphony, sustaining a heightened sense of awareness is crucial to good performance.

But we all have our limits.

When we finally pull off the highway on a family road trip, finish the big test, or get home from a demanding day at work we feel not just physically tired, but mentally exhausted.  Indeed, sustaining vigilant attention for long periods can make even the biggest go-getters want to crawl under the covers.

Can we train our attentional abilities to achieve stronger performance with less mental fatigue? 

Evidence suggests that there are two effective and complementary approaches to increasing our capacity to be attentive.  In an oft-cited landmark paper, Professor Yi-Yuan Tang, together with famed neuropsychologist Michael Posner, described these two approaches.

The first approach, dubbed Attentional Training (AT), focuses on the capacity of our attention itself.  How long can we sustain an alert state?  How many tasks we can engage in simultaneously?  How well can we handle distractions?  AT seeks to challenge the limits of our attentional capacity and thus expand it.

The second approach, Attention State Training (AST), involves a quality known as mindfulness.  Mindfulness has long been an important part of the Eastern tradition of meditation, and has recently surprised and intrigued neuroscientists as labs have begun to verify its benefits.  Centered on "restful alertness", conscious control over arousal, and a mental focus on the present rather than the past or future,  AST seeks to produce a more purposeful and attentionally efficient brain.

In a nutshell: if AT is about horsepower, AST is about fuel efficiency.

At Brainwell, we created Ski Spree with both of these approaches in mind.  Ski Spree is a fun, challenging variation on what neuropsychologists call continuous performance task.  This is a type of sustained attention task which challenges brain to vigilantly focus on--and respond correctly to--an unrelenting stream of stimuli.

Long considered a gold standard among measures of attention and widely used in the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, we've repurposed this task as a cognitive training tool.  As players pilot skiers down the mountain--avoiding rocks and trees--they must make constant decisions about whether to Ski through or around gates based on cues at the top of the screen.  By continuously challenging the player with time-sensitive decision making and multitasking, Ski Spree induces an alert state and, with repeated practice, encourages the brain to develop strategies to become more attentionally efficient as both the difficulty and speed of the game increases.

To play Ski Spree and other great attention-challenging games, log in to Brainwell today!