Job Safety

February 5, 2005

New Tests

The basic BLT Alertness test uses a set of shapes on the white squares of a small checkerboard. The challenge is to determine if all the shapes are the same or not. Since some of the shapes look similar and are randomly rotated, it can be difficult to tell if they are actually all the same or not. The shapes we use were developed based on certain visual concepts discovered over years of brain testing and cognitive science. One principle draws on the well known tendency of the brain to organize a random world into spacial, geometric and linear organizational patterns.

If a visual field contains many strong visual patterns the brain tends to organize the field into those patterns. A minor deviation or missing segment can be ignored. Up to a point. Hence our patterns tend to be stong visual shapes and the variations tend to add or subtract a subordinate element of the shape. The challenge of overcoming the brain’s instinctive visual organizing shortcuts requires an alert mind. This particular feature of the test tends to compress the time required to determine alertness which was one of our goals with this design. Keep in mind that our intent was to design a test that is difficult but not annoying. We could make the test much more difficult, but we do not need to do that to determine general alertness.

We can also make tests that are job specific. For a truck driver we would have a driving simulation, for the crane operator – a crane simulation, But this would mean, essentially, a separate standard of alertness for each profession because each test would need to be recallibrated for a different set of conditions. (Not to mention the problem of deciding what test should be given to each group and sub group.) This was not our intent either, we want a universal test and a universal standard measure of alertness.

Within the limits of our resources, we are, nevertheless, designing new tests. At the moment, the emphasis is on memory tests for Alzheimer’s Disease and general memory impairment. Here we are breaking the mold of standardized tests again by using photographs as the memory component item. Of course, we are not reinventing the wheel, our tests fall neatly within the pattern of traditional, standardized tests for memory. But we find using protographs within these standards creates a much more enjoyable test experience. Photographs create their own set of problems too. A photograph can be charged with emotional energy and beauty or, more typically, it can be dull and un interesting. Obviously, the first kind tend to be easy to remember while the latter kind, the dull ones, are forgettable. Introducing variables like this drives cognitive scientists up the wall.

In one of our newest memory tests all the photographs have an “equivalent memory value”. Yet the pictures are still visually interesting. To see if we can get away with this watch for our new memory testing site that will be on line in May.