Why attention matters and how you can train attention.
Intuitively, parents and teachers understand that attention is important to learning. If you cannot pay attention in class or while reading a book, you are not going to learn much. However, attention is much more foundational than just ‘paying attention’. Attention skills impact self-control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, which are known collectively as executive function skills.
The importance of attention and executive function skills cannot be overstated. One research study found that a child’s attention skills at age 4 correlate strongly with whether they graduated from college by age 25. The good news is that attention skills can be trained. When children improve attention skills, they do better in school and in life.
The challenge in training attention skills is that attention cannot be observed directly, so we can measure attention only by observing the way it affects our information processing, learning, and memory. Many attempts at training attention focus on improving things like working memory.
This is like training someone with weak leg muscles to kick a soccer ball harder just by kicking it again and again. The player will be able to kick it harder with practice; however, a lot more can be achieved if you help the player strengthen his or her leg muscles through weight training. The strength they build will be applicable in a lot of different areas and when the player practices kicking the ball again, they will have a lot more power to put into kicking as well as sprinting, jumping, etc.
That is what BrainLeap does with attention training. It is like weight training for kids who have weak attention skills. We leverage the fact that eye movements and attention are tightly linked and share much of the same brain circuitry. Plus, eye movements can be observed and are easy to measure.
We leverage the eye movement system to train attention.
Shifts of attention precede gaze shifts and mark the location for an eye movement. It is possible, of course, to separate attention and gaze — think of a cat looking away but attending closely the entrance to a mouse hole in the wall. However, for most of our regular interactions, where we look is where we are placing our attention. That is why it makes sense to train attention by using an eye tracker to harness gaze.
The gaze-driven video games we have developed gradually shape behavior using visual and auditory feedback provided in real-time — that is what video games do well. Because players are controlling the games using only their eyes, we leverage the eye movement system to improve the accuracy of shifting attention, ability to maintain focus, and inhibitory control (not looking at something distracting).
Training attention skills requires frequent practice.
While there are one-on-one training regimens that have shown improvements in attention, it is difficult to administer frequent and lengthy training in a laboratory or clinic where eye movements and behavior can be accurately monitored.
That is why gaze-driven video games are a much better solution. Our games are designed for use at home or in school where children can play independently. (When was the last time you had to help your child with a video game?) This makes frequent training flexible and easy. Much like exercise, users need to play regularly over time to strengthen their “attention muscle.” Participants could see significant results within 8 weeks if they train 20 minutes a day 5 days a week.