Subliminal Cues From Smart Glasses Boost Athletic Performance

Google Glass and other augmented reality glasses might improve endurance by priming people's minds with subliminal visual cues

2 min read
Man on a bicycle wearing a clip-on display.
Photo: Recon Instruments

Athletes may soon find a very good reason to get their geek on by wearing Google Glass or other smart glasses as sportswear. New research suggests that subliminal cues shown on visual displays can give a significant boost to human performance during endurance exercises.

The small study by researchers at Kent University and Bangor University in the UK may be the first to show that subliminal visual cueswords, pictures, and symbolscan have have an impact on human performance during exercise. Study participants saw the words or small faces used to “prime” their performance appear on a digital screen for less than 0.02 seconds with masking visuals that prevented them from consciously identifying the cues, according to a press release.

One of the study’s experiments showed happy or sad faces to 13 athletes cycling to the point of exhaustion. Those athletes who were exposed to the happy faces ended up cycling almost three minutes longer on average than those exposed to the sad faces.

A second experiment found that “action” words could also prime athletes for better performance compared with “inaction” words on a similar endurance test—an increase in endurance time of six minutes and 39 seconds. Unlike the first experiment, the second experiment used a single subject design that had each individual serve as his or her own control. Full details appear in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The intriguing results should probably be taken with a grain of salt considering the small sample size. But if the study’s findings holds up in future research, they could encourage a new form of performance boosting during endurance competitions, training or exercise—especially with the growing availability of wearable displays such as Google Glass and other smart glasses. (It’s not clear whether the International Olympic Committee would smile so kindly on such gear.)

Some companies such as Recon Instruments have already built businesses by selling high-tech, augmented reality goggles to athletes involved in certain sports such as skiing. Such smart goggles or glasses may become more widespread in the near future if they can also promise subliminal help in squeezing out some additional athletic performance.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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