University of Newcastle wins $2m innovation contract to prepare Defence personnel for stress on the job through virtual reality

 STRESS LESS: University of Newcastle researchers Eugene Nalivaiko and Rohan Walker will deliver a biometric virtual reality project so Defence personnel can better manage stress. Picture: Marina Neil
STRESS LESS: University of Newcastle researchers Eugene Nalivaiko and Rohan Walker will deliver a biometric virtual reality project so Defence personnel can better manage stress. Picture: Marina Neil

A MOTHER or father raising a newborn child. A truckie aiming to meet an impossibly tight deadline. A soldier in a war zone under a barrage of bullets.

Although they vary in intensity, they are all high-stress situations that University of Newcastle researchers are hoping to put a lid on, with the announcement of a $2 million contract to develop resilience training for Australian Defence Force personnel through biometric virtual reality.

The federal funding coup is a win for the university’s science department and is seen as a potential game-changer in the way Defence personnel are taught to manage stress, taking cadets out of the classroom and giving them better understanding of the real deal.

Associate Professor Rohan Walker said the three-year program would target recruits to shake up the way psychological resilience is taught.

The virtual reality experience would be coupled with biometric feedback technology, which measures heart rate and stress level, so that participants understand the triggers of stress and how to deal with it effectively in different environments.

“The ADF really thinks this will transform the way they do their training,” Associate Professor Walker said.

“It’s giving them the psychological tools to help them deal with those challenging situations. It’s to make sure they’re ready.”

UNDER PRESSURE: Defence personnel will use virtual reality to give them a feel for the real deal.

UNDER PRESSURE: Defence personnel will use virtual reality to give them a feel for the real deal.

Project co-lead Associate Professor Eugene Nalivaiko said those who knew to control stress performed better.

He said the virtual reality experience would provide an “engaging and immersive” but safe environment.

“When one is stressed, it may overwhelm the person,” Associate Professor Nalivaiko said.

“A person may lose control and introspect is lost. That introspection is designed to maintain control of your stress.”

The module-based program would allow Defence personnel to know when to identify stress and control it using other skills such as tactical breathing. Heart rate results would monitor the participant’s progress throughout.

The ADF really thinks this will transform the way they do their training.

University of Newcastle's Rohan Walker

Associate Professor Walker said stress was a fact of life and a program such as this could be par for the course for a variety of occupations one day.

“Stress will always be there – any parent who has children in the back seat of a car will tell you that,” he said. “But you can learn how to identify it, control it and keep calm under pressure.”

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the government’s innovation program was harnessing the potential of the Hunter’s defence industry.

“These investments will drive growth in defence industry and innovation whilst focusing on the capability needs required to ensure Australia’s national security now and into the future,” Mr Pyne said.

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