Attentional Demand of a Virtual Reality-Based Reaching Task in Nondisabled Older Adults

in Journal of Motor Learning and Development
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Attention during exercise is known to affect performance; however, the attentional demand inherent to virtual reality (VR)-based exercise is not well understood. We used a dual-task paradigm to compare the attentional demands of VR-based and non-VR-based (conventional, real-world) exercise: 22 older adults (with no diagnosed disabilities) performed a primary reaching task to virtual and real targets in a counterbalanced block order while verbally responding to an unanticipated auditory tone in one third of the trials. The attentional demand of the primary reaching task was inferred from the voice response time (VRT) to the auditory tone. Participants’ engagement level and task experience were also obtained using questionnaires. The virtual target condition was more attention demanding (significantly longer VRT) than the real target condition. Secondary analyses revealed a significant interaction between engagement level and target condition on attentional demand. For participants who were highly engaged, attentional demand was high and independent of target condition. However, for those who were less engaged, attentional demand was low and depended on target condition (i.e., virtual > real). These findings add important knowledge to the growing body of research pertaining to the development and application of technology-enhanced exercise for older adults and for rehabilitation purposes.

Yi-An Chen, Yu-Chen Chung, Rachel Proffitt, and Carolee Winstein are with the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. Eric Wade is with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. Yi-An Chen and Yu-Chen Chung contributed equally to this project and are considered as co-first authors.

Address author correspondence to Yi-An Chen at yian@usc.edu.