We are examining real-time brain signal information of military personnel to inform new training approaches.

Military personnel are often required to perform complex tasks and make decisions in challenging environments. Effective training is essential to ensure they can perform optimally in these situations.

The Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory (CNL) – part of the Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments (IVE) at the University of South Australia – conducts state-of-the-art research into the neurobiological basis of cognition and specialises in conducting studies both in the lab and in real-world settings.

We have been collaborating with the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and the Australian Army on a project to examine how neuroscience data could supplement current military training practices in real-world settings.

The importance of realistic training

In order to prepare for the unique challenges of their roles, military personnel will undertake training in scenarios that seek to replicate the challenges present in real-world operations. This training often involves using simulation systems and other equipment to practice procedures that develop individual cognitive and physical skills to the required standard.  To prepare military personnel effectively, this training needs to be realistic yet provide a safe environment to develop skills, while accounting for individual differences in learning rates and abilities.

Prior to this project, little was known about how the brain makes decisions and processes information during such training, particularly in real-world settings with military personnel conducting job-relevant tasks. Currently, military instructors rely on their observations and simulation output data to assess trainee performance but have limited ability to objectively assess how well a trainee was processing information or making decisions during a training scenario. This is where cognitive neuroscience methods could potentially bolster current assessment methods, and provide information back to instructors to tailor training to individual or team member needs.

a montage of defence training simulations

An illustration of team training in the ground-to-air base simulation environment and EEG protocol

real-time data for real results

In collaboration with the Department of Defence, the CNL recruited forty active military personnel for the project. They were allocated into twenty pairs and their brain activity was recorded using dual electroencephalograms (EEGs) while at rest and during realistic, simulated training scenarios. Traditionally, this type of brain-based measurement is difficult because of challenges with the portability of equipment and integration with military equipment. CNL used state-of-the-art portable EEG to improve data-collection capacity during activities performed with military-style equipment.

During the scenarios, participants worked as a team to defeat simulated enemy threats and the scenarios became more complex over time. The results showed that resting-state EEG predicted team performance on the simulation tasks and reliably differentiated between members within a team. Brain activity collected during the easier tasks was also predictive of an individual’s performance on more challenging tasks – and more predictive than instructor ratings of performance on easier tasks. These findings complement laboratory-based research on the brain basis of higher-order cognition. The project’s evidence that brain activity at rest is predictive of training performance could potentially be used by defence organisations to develop tailored training regimes for individual personnel based on their brain activity profiles.


This breakthrough research is being used as the foundation for a new project with DSTG, Flinders University, and industry partner Lumination which is exploring the benefits of cognitive-based training for enhancing individual decision-making in challenging situations. Beyond a military context, businesses and other organisations could also use the predictive power of resting-state brain activity to develop tailored training programs for employees. A brain-activity-informed approach is in stark contrast to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ training method currently used by many organisations.

Read the publication

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For more information or to discuss potential projects contact: Ina.Bornkessel-Schlesewsky@unisa.edu.au