A study at North Carolina's Duke University has revealed that Stroboscopic training, the performance of physical activity while using eyewear that simulates a strobe-like experience, improves visual short-term memory for up to 24 hours.

Participants in the study were taken from the 2010-2011 Duke University men's and women's varsity soccer teams, Duke's 2010-2011 men's basketball team and members of the general Duke community. They were required to engage in physical activities such as playing catch while wearing either the specialized stroboscopic eyewear, designed specifically to limit vision to brief snapshots, or standard clear eyewear that provided uninterrupted vision.

The participants then completed a computer-based test designed to measure the effectiveness of their short-term memory retention. They were first shown a series of eight random letters of the alphabet which appeared briefly on a computer screen. The participants were then asked to recall certain letters, with delay periods ranging from immediate to 2.5 seconds following the initial display. As the test did not indicate which letters the candidates would be asked to identify, participants were required to retain all of the items in their memory.

The Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe, which was used in the study

Greg Appelbaum, assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University and first author of the study, explains the underlying concept of short-term memory, and how the eyewear affects it, stating that “Humans have a memory buffer in their brain that keeps information alive for a certain short-lived period ... Wearing the strobe eyewear during the physical training seemed to boost the ability to retain information in this buffer.” Essentially, the impaired vision provided by the stroboscopic glasses forces the user to adjust their visual processing in order to perform normally. When the eyewear is removed, the benefits continue for some 24 hours.

A previous experiment had revealed that stroboscopic training improves visual perception, giving participants an edge when detecting subtle motion cues and providing a boost when processing briefly presented visual information. However, it was not until this more recent study that the duration of the effects was ascertained.

The Nike device's strobe speed adjustment interface

Perhaps the most effective indicator of the success of the program is the positive response of the participants. The project's senior researcher, Stephen Mitroff reported that the test subjects had little trouble with the strobe-like training technique, and several participants were keen to take part in future studies. The eyewear was designed by Nike SPARQ Sensory Performance and is being marketed as the Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe. The final product features an adjustable strobe speed.

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