A Video Game Could Help Assess Potential Employees With Cognitive Impairment

By David Wharton | Published

Could it be The Lawnmower Man come to life? Nothing to do with the story, like the movie. And nothing to do with the movie either, really. Just the virtual reality part. And the fact that your lawnmower man probably has a mental defect, or cognitive impairment, for the men in white coats.

Konstantine Zakzanis, associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and his colleagues have developed a computer-generated virtual world, a simplified sandbox game, that assigns users various tasks, like making Link bring that letter to that monkey, who then tells him he needs the flute from the acrobat.

Standarized tests are good for math, memory, measurements, and subjective takes on one’s own talents and problems, but they don’t accurately portray how a person will interpret information or react to certain real-world situations. In particular, the researchers were interested in the results for people with cognitive impairments, either natural or caused by injury. People in this position may be denied workman’s comp or insurance benefits based on the current form of testing, which isn’t always fair in its appraisal.

Zakzanis’ test, called “Multitasking in the City Task,” is detailed in a paper for Applied Neuropsychology: Adult. A game controller is the method used for test-takers to make their way through the test. In one, they must succeed in finishing menial, but substantial tasks, like paying bills and going shopping in a 15-minute time period. Another involves inference when information isn’t fully given, such as figuring out a where mail with an incomplete address would go based on the connection between the item and the business.

Thirteen victims of a stroke, or other forms of brain trauma, were all tested using the virtual-world testing in addition to the standard tests, along with a survey asking how severely their lives are affected by their impairment, and the results showed a more specific assessment of each person’s effectiveness in accomplishing real-world duties. It is hoped that these results will produce others, and that this can enter into employee screening in the future.

If I’d ever hire someone to be my (fill in the blank), I’d make them play Heavy Rain first, without that person knowing I’m watching. You can tell a lot about a person by that game. Some of it involves boobs in the shower, just like working at Target.