Neuroscience biofeedback improved novice sniper shooting by 100% by helping soldiers get into the right mental zone

A previous DARPA program yielded some remarkable insight into the potential for better soldier performance through focused brain states. Amy Kraus, a former DARPA program manager, on Monday told a group at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the work that she presided over succeeded in finding the secret mental secret that preceded good marksmanship. “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state,” she said, “a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”

She said that by recognizing that state, researchers were able to improve the ability of regular people to improve their marksmanship by 100 percent. “These are recordable, measurable, algortyhmical,” Kraus said.

Neuroscience-based assessments can be used to accelerate military skill acquisition and provide quantitative evidence of successful training by detecting, in real-time, cognitive and physiological states of the trainee under various conditions.

The research focuses on:
(a) integrating brain monitoring capabilities into rifle marksmanship training;
(b) identifying psychophysiological characteristics of expertise using expert marksman as a model population;
(c) developing a sensor-based feedback system—information that would not be available under current training conditions—to accelerate novices in the acquisition of marksmanship skills, and
(d) identifying neurocognitive factors that predict marksmanship skill acquisition.

The first step in developing the feedback system is to describe the neuro- and psychophysiological metrics associated with levels of skill acquisition and efficiency as participants progress from novice to expert in simple and complex task environments. Our previous work revealed specific EEG correlates of stages of skill acquisition in simple learning and memory tasks and in more cognitively complex and challenging test environments. Similarly, we will evaluate these metrics across tasks and environments. Physiological measures will include heart rate variability to measure stress and anxiety, a respiratory gauge to measure breath control, and an instrumented rifle (simulator) to record the movement of the muzzle, trigger pressure and trigger break. Performance data (hits, shot group precision and accuracy) will be time-synchronized with neurocognitive states, physiological states, and gross and fine motor movements.

Our long term goal in conducting this research is to determine whether feedback, based on participants‟ cognitive, physiological, and motor states increases the pace and efficiency of rifle marksmanship training.

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