A team of US researchers has utilised Virtual Reality (VR) to effectively test a participant's executive functional load, or how much information a person can process to achieve a goal in a real-world setting.
By using VR technology to examine how folks complete daily tasks, like making a grocery list, researchers can better help clinical populations that struggle with executive functioning to manage their everyday lives.
The researchers hope to use their VR assessment to help people that suffer from executive function impairments.
"We used VR technology to create an executive function assessment that can be used in neuropsychology to understand how veterans and other clinical populations manage their everyday lives," said lead author Zhengsi Chang from Center for BrainHealth, part of The University of Texas at Dallas' school of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
The researchers adapted the Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool's (VRFCAT) "kitchen test", where participants plan a trip to the grocery store by comparing ingredients in kitchen cabinets to a list of recipes.
"Function-led tasks using VR technology allow us to maintain a balance between ecological validity and experimental control," Chang said in a journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports.
In the virtual kitchen, 42 healthy adult participants memorised a slew of ingredients from a recipe list.
Once they finished checking their grocery list, participants picked up their wallet and left the virtual kitchen.
To test their executive functional load, the researchers increased the number of ingredients and recipes to be memorised.
Participants took longer to complete their grocery lists when they had to memorise more ingredients.
This aligned with the researchers' prediction that participants' task performance would decrease as functional load increases, which suggests that this VR assessment can effectively test executive functional load.
Upon further analysis, the researchers realised that participants were actually switching up their strategies as executive functional load increased.
"Some participants tried to memorise as many ingredients as possible before looking at the recipe while others frequently switched between rummaging through the kitchen cabinets and examining the recipe list," the findings showed.
"This study indicates that our strategies have a dramatic effect on our capacity. If you enter into a task prepared with a plan, you will get the most out of your brain and see much better performance," said Daniel Krawczyk, deputy director of the Center for BrainHealth.