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Learning real-life cognitive abilities in a novel 360°-virtual reality supermarket: a neuropsychological study of healthy participants and patients with epilepsy

Philip Grewe125*, Agnes Kohsik2, David Flentge2, Eugen Dyck23, Mario Botsch23, York Winter4, Hans J Markowitsch1, Christian G Bien5 and Martina Piefke126

Author Affiliations

1 Physiological Psychology, Bielefeld University, P.O. Box 10 01 31, Bielefeld, D-33501, Germany

2 CITmed Project, Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), Bielefeld University, P.O. Box 10 01 31, Bielefeld, D-33501, Germany

3 Computer Graphics and Geometry Processing, Faculty of Technology, Bielefeld University, P.O. Box 10 01 31, Bielefeld, D-33501, Germany

4 Cognitive Neurobiology, Neurocure, Cluster of Excellence, Humboldt University, Dorotheenstrasse 94, Berlin, D-10117, Germany

5 Bethel Epilepsy Centre, Mara Hospital, Maraweg 17-21, Bielefeld, D-33617, Germany

6 Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy, Neurobiology and Genetics of Behavior, Witten Herdecke University, Alfred-Herrhausen-Straße 50, Witten, D-58448, Germany

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Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2013, 10:42  doi:10.1186/1743-0003-10-42

Published: 23 April 2013

Abstract

Background

To increase the ecological validity of neuropsychological instruments the use of virtual reality (VR) applications can be considered as an effective tool in the field of cognitive neurorehabilitation. Despite the growing use of VR programs, only few studies have considered the application of everyday activities like shopping or travelling in VR training devices.

Methods

We developed a novel 360°- VR supermarket, which is displayed on a circular arrangement of 8 touch-screens – the “OctaVis”. In this setting, healthy human adults had to memorize an auditorily presented shopping list (list A) and subsequently buy all remembered products of this list in the VR supermarket. This procedure was accomplished on three consecutive days. On day four, a new shopping list (list B) was introduced and participants had to memorize and buy only products of this list. On day five, participants had to buy all remembered items of list A again, but without new presentation of list A. Additionally, we obtained measures of participants’ presence, immersion and figural-spatial memory abilities. We also tested a sample of patients with focal epilepsy with an extended version of our shopping task, which consisted of eight days of training.

Results

We observed a comprehensive and stable effect of learning for the number of correct products, the required time for shopping, and the length of movement trajectories in the VR supermarket in the course of the training program. Task performance was significantly correlated with participants’ figural-spatial memory abilities and subjective level of immersion into the VR.

Conclusions

Learning effects in our paradigm extend beyond mere verbal learning of the shopping list as the data show evidence for multi-layered learning (at least visual-spatial, strategic, and verbal) on concordant measures. Importantly, learning also correlated with measures of figural-spatial memory and the degree of immersion into the VR. We propose that cognitive training with the VR supermarket program in the OctaVis will be efficient for the assessment and training of real-life cognitive abilities in healthy subjects and patients with epilepsy. It is most likely that our findings will also apply for patients with cognitive disabilities resulting from other neurological and psychiatric syndromes.