Stroboscopic Training Can Enhance Memory

  • BY Justin Alvarez

Watching the Olympics this past weekend, one can see the payoff from years of training and hard work. However, Nike, one of the largest sport sponsors in the world, sees potential beyond marketing products that make you stronger and faster; they have their eyes set on technology that’ll help people remember and “see their sport better.”
Nike commissioned a study at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences, led by Greg Appelbaum, to scientifically prove the benefits of “stroboscopic training” using Nike’s Sparq Vapor Strobe sport glasses. The glasses simulate strobe lighting, which limits the wearer’s vision to only brief snapshots of what is going on around them. What Nike hoped to prove is that simulating a strobe-like experience can increase visual short-term memory retention.

Plucking athletes from Duke’s own sports program, the study had participants engage in physical activities, such as playing catch, with some of the participants wearing Nike’s glasses while others wore eyewear with clear lenses. Afterwards, the participants took a memory test, in which eight randomly selected letters flashed up on a screen. Afterwards, the participants were asked to recall a letter, sometimes immediately after the letters, but in more challenging cases with a delay of up to 2.5 seconds.
The tests proved that “stroboscopic training” can not only increase a person’s ability to retain information, but that this increase in visual memory retention was still active up to 24 hours later. “Our earlier work on stroboscopic training showed that it can improve perceptual abilities, but we don’t know exactly how,” says Stephen Mitroff, a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. “This project takes a big step by showing that these improved perceptual abilities are driven, at least in part, by improvements in visual memory.”
“By blocking or disrupting vision using a strobe or flicker effect that can be varied in speed,” as Nike explains, “an athlete can develop quicker reaction times and motor skills … and trains the brain to anticipate what’s coming when the eyes are blocked.” In more scientific terms, according to Duke’s Greg Appelbaum, humans have “a memory buffer in their brain that keeps information alive for a certain short-lived period,” and by wearing strobe eyewear during training, athletes “boost the ability to retain information in this buffer.”
The best part? Unlike Google Glass, which we’ve covered quite a bit recently on this blog, anyone can purchase Nike’s Sparq Vapor Strobe glasses now. The eyewear is the core of Nike’s Sparq Sensor Performance System, which includes a Sensor Station that assesses visual and sensory performance skills to create an individualized training program. You can also read more about stroboscopic training and brain plasticity on Appelbaum’s website.