11

Imagine this: unlocking your hidden brain potential! You’ve probably seen movies like “Lucy”, “Limitless”, “Dark City”, etc… where the characters unlock secret powers of the mind to perform incredible feats. That is sadly only fiction, but… there is some truth in it. There are ways you can unbind your mind to become more in tune with yourself and improve your social skills. The way for this is virtual training, or what is sometimes referred to as “brain training” games.

These games are everywhere: from high tech apps and web mini-games to classical puzzle books. They all have on thing in common: they’re supposed to improve your brain functions.

Brain training games

They are everywhere: from high-tech apps and websites to old-school puzzle books, they promise to help improve all sorts of brain functions. It was scientifically proven that these puzzle games help prevent Alzheimer’s disease with the elderly, but what about the youth? Can they actually increase the potential with young, fresh minds? A lot of online brain training programs promise radical increases in attention and memory as a result. While these games improve performance at specific tasks, ones in chosen games, they don’t necessarily translate to the overall function of the brain. Having said that, there still remains a certain, specific improvement, one offered by a single game. In theory, overall mindset can improve by combining different games, using each one’s specific function to improve a different part of the bran. Therefore, bit by bit, our brainpower enhances with each segment improved.

Virtual reality

How does virtual reality affect us and our minds? By monitoring the space-mapping neurons in the brain, neurophysicists at UCLA have found out that the brain reacts differently to virtual reality than it does to real-world environments. To quote Mayank Mehta, a UCLA professor of physics, neurology and neurobiology : “The pattern of activity in a brain region involved in spatial learning in the virtual world is completely different than when it processes activity in the real world.” This opens up another world when it comes to therapy, especially when dealing with trauma. Since the dangers are not real, our brains can easily heal by dealing with these issues in a safe environment, inside a computer program. This is especially effective with military personnel, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, conflict and learning peaceful negoatiation skills.

Virtual reality and autism

How about healing certain parts, specifically: autism? Recently, a group of children and young adults diagnosed with autism was part of an experiment that had them play around in a virtual reality. They controlled a digital avatar, which had the patient’s facial expressions projected on them via  webcam, while they interacted with an avatar of their autism therapist. Over time, different avatars were added, ones of neighbours, potential blinds dates and such, along with new social skills that are to be practiced. In the first phase of the study, it was  evaluated how well does the program improve social understanding. While using brain imaging and brain-wave monitoring, the experiment also measured brain activity, observing patterns in brain regions in charge of social behaviour. After the treatment, brain scans showed regions associated with social understanding light up like never before, as well as seeing connections with brain regions in charge of normal social behaviour that weren’t present before. There is still work done in this field, but one thing is certain: it is showing a lot of potential.

Virtual reality and negotiation

While virtual training helped out people with autism, can it also help regular people with social skills? Like with negotiating, for instance?

But first, let’s establish the difference between persuading and negotiating. While they are not mutually exclusive,  there is a clear difference.  Persuasion is usually the first one we turn to, and a one lot more primitive. The tactics used here are: explaining, debating, convincing, urging, influencing… They are clearly a bit aggressive. Negotiation is more complicated, it requires understanding the opposed side, knowing their needs and motives. It is knowing what fuels the other side and what makes it tick. It’s clearly the more civilised one.

Learning negotiating skills via virtual reality comes with a benefit of working behind the safety of a “tailored” situation. Subjects can test out their skills with different outcomes, repeating, opting for the best one. There’s a saying “If at first you don’t succeed: try again”. With virtual reality, this comes without any disadvantages, as any bad answers or ideas don’t have irreversible effects.

But maybe, it’s even time to leave it to the machines. More specifically: computers, as they can now promote win-win strategies and even trust in online sales negotiations. While face-to-face strategies seem more personal, maybe that is the nature of the problem.
Getting rid of that may be the next step in negotiation: with virtual reality.