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The science of decision-making

Tests. We’ve all had to take them. From multiple choice to those dreaded long-answer questions, it’s an unfortunate reality we must all face. But what if there were a technology that could help treat test anxiety and enhance your decision-making skills under pressure?

This is what McGill University PhD student researcher, Derek Albert, set to find out.

Working with mental health electronics manufacturer Mind Alive, Derek proposed to determine if Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE) — a technology that uses pulsing lights and sound to guide the brain into various states of brainwave activity — could be effective in reducing performance anxiety and improving test performance compared to the traditional mindfulness meditation treatment.

Unlike previous methods of delivering AVE treatments, Mind Alive administers AVE therapy through a portable, non-invasive, hand-held device to help improve brain performance in a non-pharmaceutical way. The devices —used worldwide —are designed and manufactured in-house by Mind Alive and have been shown to promote better health and increase relaxation.

“Anxiety can affect one’s ability to make rational decisions,” explains Derek. “People may be more conservative in their choices if they’re feeling pressured, anxious, or unsure of their answer. Although mindfulness techniques are effective for reducing anxiety, AVE could be particularly effective for improving decision-making.”

With a sample of 80 participants aged 18-35 years, the study will evaluate the participants’ anxiety and general reasoning before and after completing one of four treatment conditions. Derek’s goal? To test whether AVE will improve decision-making on tests by reducing anxiety better than mindfulness techniques alone.

But for the student researcher, the study represents much more than proving a hypothesis.

“Mitacs’ program gives me the opportunity to design and conduct a controlled experiment, in a low-risk situation, while making a meaningful contribution to the study of mental health,” he says, adding that learning the ins-and-outs of project work has been a great experience.

From the very beginnings of putting a proposal together and demonstrating writing skills, to working through a rigorous ethics process and ensuring multiple parties with different interests are satisfied, Derek says the project has helped round out his skill-set and provide him with work experience in his field — key factors towards his future success.

“The education I’ve gained through this research internship is invaluable and one that will certainly open possibilities for my career.”
 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada along with Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate program.