Areas of Specialization in Research
a. Military Medical Training
To address the needs of the military medical community, VRMC has been creating and refining protocols to offer an entirely new option adjunctive to total immersion VR. Most current scenarios designed for training medics employ limited realism that is unable to provide full immersion into combat medical situations involving severe trauma—the kind of simulation experience that will adequately prepare medics for actual battlefield injuries involving bleeding and severe tissue damage. We have successfully added psychological realism and a stress element to our tactical training scenarios by having actors wear prototype simulated wound devices, bringing a new dimension to combat medic training. The feedback from our test combat exercises was overwhelmingly positive, as the corpsmen commented that the injuries were the most realistic they had ever encountered during training. We are currently using a basic science approach to upgrade our training simulators. Our goal is to go beyond special-effects realism to medical realism, so that injuries will not only look real but will feel real and behave like actual tissue.
b. Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)
Deployed personnel must often perform in extremely stressful environments, and optimum performance under such conditions requires the management of physiological, psychological, and emotional responses to stressful stimuli. SIT is a technique to help “inoculate” individuals to future potentially traumatizing stressors. An acute stress reaction (ASR) or combat and operational stress reaction (COSR) can occur during exposure to exceptionally stressful events, resulting in extreme sympathetic nervous system arousal and impaired performance. Longer-term reactions can include acute stress disorder, and acute and chronic PTSD. During preventative SIT, military personnel are taught skills and then “experience” highly stressful situations in a virtual environment while being physiologically monitored. Repeated exposure enables performers to gradually become desensitized to stimuli that may initially elicit such strong physiologic arousal that performance is impeded (i.e., “freezing in the line of fire”) and psychological trauma is more likely.
c. Tactical Training Technology
Using empirical testing, we have thus far observed significant transfer of skills in trainees from virtual training to real-world exercises in our experiments with the U.S. Army, Navy SEALs and Corpsmen, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard personnel using our Virtual Shoot House training system. In a VRMC study, we saw that virtual training can reduce real-world training by 75% in terms of training sessions. Our validation methods include a combination of objective and subjective measurements, such as direct observation during performance by expert military evaluators and feedback from the trainees themselves. We also use physiological monitoring methods, which can indicate levels of anxiety and situational awareness. By understanding the state of the student during training, the simulated training can be modified to add or subtract stressors as would be most appropriate to the situation.