We’ve all heard about how technology is being developed to benefit our lives. A brain-scanning helmet developed to monitor mental energy and it is said that the focus is at the centre of a ground-breaking study exploring the mind as the next frontier. Recently there was an experiment was commenced by Ford Performance in union with King’s College London and tech partner UNIT9. The determination was to explore how mental training techniques used by racing drivers and professional athletes; breathing meditation and visualisation affects the brain’s performance. However, another reason to build these technology was to see if ordinary people might be able to adopt these same techniques to their own advantage in everyday life.
The experiment measured the brain waves of professional race drivers and a control group of normal drivers. Tech engineers and product designers collaborated to modify a standard FIA approved helmet to contain an EEG (electroencephalography) headset; a device that can read electrical activity from the brain. Shortly after they recorded driver focus to get a measure of the mental effort drivers dedicated to driving. Ford's 'Psychology of Performance' study saw racing drivers, including World Touring Car winner Andy Priaulx and World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier, putting on the smart helmet. Mental training techniques have long been used in sports psychology to help professional athletes stay at the top of their game. However, the study also included members of the public to see whether their performances might also improve if they adopted the same breathing and visualisation techniques as the racing drivers.
What the experiment outcome was that the professional racing drivers are trained and focus in other words ‘in the zone’, the fact that their minds are trained to such a degree, behind the wheel they are extremely focused, this resulted in showing they were up to 40% better than the average person when it came to ignoring distractions. This isn't predominantly unexpected, given the intensities of training and discipline required to compete at the very top, as Priaulx and Ogier have experienced first-hand. But, what was astonishing about the results were the effects mental exercises had on the other partakers. Both the professional and normal drivers who practised the breathing meditation and visualisation techniques improved considerably; by as much as 50%, and also had mental reactions much more like the professional drivers.
The future for Ford's smart helmet could potentially see the prototype developed into an EEG-equipped racing helmet. Hypothetically, professional drivers could have their brain activity transmitted back to the team during a race, alongside other in-car telemetry. The ramifications open up a new frontier in sport, where mental conditioning is analysed scientifically, as much as a physio monitors the conditioning of the body. And the implications of the research for ordinary people are equally thrilling. As Priaulx puts it: "Our experiment showed that simple mental training ahead of a task can help anyone to improve focus and ignore distractions, making them more successful."
In a world where we are continuously being bombarded with information and where our technologies have the aptitude to limitlessly distract us, being able to routinely concentrate on the task in hand and perform to a high level are important attributes. The Ford study have stated that “this is just the beginning of our exploration into this fascinating new frontier”. I think whether it's a job interview, a big presentation or simply trying to manage with the hectic pace of our intersected world, these mental techniques can prove to be beneficial to all of us.