The science of decision-making

McGill researcher uses tech to treat test anxiety and improve performance

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 thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.

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