Tucked away neatly in the basement of the Queen’s University Physical Education Centre is the School of Psychology’s Movement and Innovation lab. It houses some of the most sophisticated virtual reality equipment available and is carrying out pioneering research which will have an impact in areas of health and sport.
Among the wide reaching benefits will be new ways of improving the coordination and balance of older adults who have difficulty with movement as well as aiding rugby players and footballers in some of their decision making.
'The lab began with European funding and has been researching how the brain controls movement,' says Professor Cathy Craig, director of research. 'We’re looking at how it links, in particular, to sports performance and, in the health context, rehabilitation which is very much about movement.'
Professor Craig’s believes that their work has been enhanced by state of the art facilities they use. 'We don’t know of any other lab like this in the world that allows the study of movement and perception at this level.'
'We use virtual reality, 3D technology and simulation technology which allows us to simulate different environment and to see how thee person responds,' she explains.
The lab is also exploring way in which older people can improve their confidence and be able to move better. A virtual reality game has been developed which encourages them to move in particular ways and train their balance.
As part of its sports research, the Movement and Innovation centre has been examining how sports men and women make decisions during competition.
'Up until 10 - 15 years ago the dominant view in sport was that decision making was like a game of chess. Elite sports people would remember patterns and recall them,' says Craig. 'Our view is very different. In rugby for example, no two situations are the same. If you are a number 10, your decision to run, kick or pass is based on what you see in front of you.'
'In our virtual environment we are able to look those different situations such as the speed of approach of a defensive line, or the different gaps opening between players and how that affects someone’s response and what they should do next.'
By Padraig Coyle