Ford has undertaken a new study to uncover the secrets of racing drivers’ brains.
Investigating ways to boost mental performance using mental preparation and training, Ford has teamed up with neuroscientists at King’s College London. Together they have carried out research to understand how mental performance can be boosted in everyday life using the visualisation and mental training techniques favoured by Ford racing drivers.
Titled The Psychology of Performance, the research aims to understand the psychology behind these mental techniques and how they can affect performance. Not only is the research applicable to racing, it’s also useful for anyone wanting to perform better in a situation.
The study looked at exactly how the body reacts to mental training using an EEG (electroencephalogram) headset to measure the electrical brain activity of participants. Participants included Ford drivers along with members of the public.
The test subjects went through virtual reality driving challenges and a driving simulator, where their reaction and concentration times were measured.
Ford’s three-time FIA World Touring Car Championship winner Andy Priaulx has spoken about how mental training has helped him to reach the podium. He combines meditation with mindfulness, which he says has helped him become aware of his performance and where he needs to improve.
“Before, I had never won a circuit race,” explained Priaulx. “The following year I won 13 races out of 13 from pole position. I’ve given myself these tools to play with and it’s helped me to become a more complete package.
“When things get tough and the pressure’s on that’s when you need to get in this zone, and the good guys, the successful racing drivers, are able to do that whether that’s on the track or off it,” said Priaulx. “Racing drivers aren’t necessarily born with this skill; our experiment showed that simple mental training ahead of a task can help anyone to improve focus and ignore distractions, making them more successful at the task in hand.”
Dr Elias Mouchlianitis of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, who designed the experiment explained: “When an athlete or driver needs to move beyond their core performance they need to expand their perception and tune into subtle sensory signals to try to find the ones that matter. They also need to expand their library of performance, they need to learn new exercises that are completely different from the main driving task but that help discover those factors that make a difference.”
Of the results, he said: “We were able to witness just how differently pro drivers brains function, compared to members of the public. Travelling at high speed, in a state of high focus, their brains perform up to 40% better than you or I.
“The other interesting thing we found was that when normal people performed some simple mental exercises, they were also able to reach this higher level of performance.”
Simple breathing and meditation exercises, plus a visualisation technique that uses keywords to describe the task ahead, saw normal drivers improve their focus and performance by as much as 50 per cent.
The study marks the first time that EEG technology has been used on pro drivers to explore the psychology of how the brain performs, and how we can all train our brains to better focus.
Following the research, Ford is developing an EEG-equipped racing helmet for its professional drivers, where brain activity data can be transmitted back to the team during a race alongside other in-car car telemetry.
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