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VR to enhance resilience of Australian troops

The University of Newcastle (UON) will lead a first-of-its-kind project in the hopes of utilising advanced tools to enhance resilience.

As reported, the project will explore Virtual Reality (VR) training as a new method to ensure Australian troops are equipped with resilience training ahead of deployment.

A$ 2.2 million funding from the Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) and the Australian Army will be given for the development of the enhanced resilience training through the use of VR technology.

The work will explore how stress changes the way brain works and how the troops can be better equipped in order to cope under duress.

Psychological stress is a common occupational hazard in the military and often affects the performance of an individual.

What tends to be challenging is where difficult experiences are beyond the individual’s ability to control them.

It is imperative that the troops are forearmed with strategies that will guarantee that they remain in control of the situation and are equipped with the skills to make a level-headed decision.

There are two main factors at play to ensure performance under pressure.

Cognitive reframing is the first. It involves identifying and then disputing irrational thoughts. Reframing is taking a step back and objectively looking at the scenario to find positive alternatives.

Tactical breathing is the second. While it sounds simple, breathing is key as it is the only thing that can be regulated under pressure.

When breathing is done properly, respiration and heartrate are controlled and there are high levels of cognitive flexibility to make better decisions.

Utilising new and innovative tools in virtual technology, the researchers hope their work will build on current training practices to contribute to a revolutionary training program.

In partnership with the University of Southern California, the neuroscientists will design a simulated environment to replicate real-world scenarios that may be experienced by Australian Defence Force personnel.

With a VR headset, participants will be exposed to realistic scenarios to train and test their resilience and ultimately improve their performance under pressure.

Developing skills in tactical breathing is part of the training process. It can be applied in a virtual and subsequently, in a real-world environment.

The idea is for the trainees to master the skill in a measurable situation where the difficulty of the task can be controlled. This will guarantee that they are prepared before moving to real-world conflict situations.

The advantage of utilising VR in this way is that an innovating, engaging and immersive experience, which produces objectively verifiable results, is being provided.

Combining biometrics and VR to develop improved testing resources would provide an invaluable method of collecting reliable data to ensure troops are ready and capable to perform their duties.

It can be difficult to test for cognitive resilience when subjects have to be the judge of their own ability. There can be multiple factors at play like being unsure of their own limits.

The benefits of utilising a virtual scenario test to simulate the response are huge. But one major factor is that an accurate picture of where a trainee is at in the testing and how well they have responded to the simulated scenarios can be provided.

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