Panos Kourtesis

Thesis title: European Cognitive and Theory of Mind Interactive Applications in Virtual Reality (ECTOMIA VR): Virtual Reality Everyday Assessment Lab (VR-EAL) 


My name is Panagiotis Kourtesis. I am PhD candidate (Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience) of University of Edinburgh and University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. My professional and academic experiences in cognitive and clinical neuroscience comprehend telemedicine, cyber-psychology, diagnostic and evaluation neuropsychological assessment, which enables the neuropsychologists to provide a person-centred compensatory rehabilitation.

I have acquired programming abilities predominantly using two programming languages (C# and Python) that are essential to cyber-psychological/Virtual Reality projects' development.  I have expanded my IT knowledge through the experimentation on Unity Game Engine, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard VR, Samsung Gear VR, and Neuro-VR.

My current endeavour aims to develop the first apps library of Virtual Reality assessment tools

Responsibilities & affiliations

Interdisciplinary Lab "Scienza Nuova"  - University Suor Orsola Benincasa  of Naples

Hellenic (Greek) Society For Neuroscience

Hellenic Neuropsychological Society  

Federation of European Neuroscience Societies 

International Brain Research Organisation 

ALS Worlwide 

Research summary

Virtual Reality in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience 

Frontal Lobe Functions, Prospective Memory, Episodic Memory, Attention, Executive Functions. 

Current research interests

The Implementation of Virtual Reality Head mounted Devices in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience

Past research interests

Cognitive and Behavioural changes in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Alzheimer's Disease

Affiliated research centres

Project activity

My current endeavour aims to develop the first apps library of Virtual Reality assessment tools under the name European Cognitive & Theory of Mind Interactive Assessments (ECTOMIA). ECTOMIA will comprehend VR neuropsychological assessments which require veridicality and verisimilitude i.e. the appraisal of cognitive domains like everyday memory, attention, executive functions, and social cognition which are paramount for the daily functionality of individuals living in modern societies.

European Cognitive and Theory of Mind Interactive Assessments in Virtual Reality (ECTOMIA VR):

Virtual Reality Everyday Assessment Lab (VR-EAL) 

The Innovative Nature of VR-EAL and ECTOMIA VR : VR-EAL is the first VR scenario which embeds 5 apps (Long-Term Memory App, Multi-Tasking App, Selective Attention App, Divided Attention App, Sustained Attention App) in order to assess Prospective Memory which is paramount to everyday functionality. However, the embedded apps may be used independently (not within the story-line) to assess a specific cognitive ability. Hence, VR-EAL is a smaller library of apps within a greater one which is ECTOMIA VR. ECTOMIA VR will include other smaller libraries such as Sensory Motor Assessments Virtual Reality (SOMA-VR) & Social Cognition Interactive Assessments Lab VR (SOCIAL-VR). The apps of this libraries will assess various cognitive, physiological, and social abilities. Their development is the very first step towards the establishment of significant telemedicine tools which will allow the assessment of individuals either professionals or patients at distance. Thus, the individual may have a comprehensive assessment and report without visiting a neuropsychologist and/or a physician (MD). Also, the accumulated data may facilitate the development of patient-centred rehabilitation and training programs, e.g. building an A.I. support assistant (AR app) or by providing an Error-Less Therapy program for the respective ability. Finally, the apps of ECTOMIA VR do not only solve major clinical problems (see below the Ecological Validity issue) but also resolves the replication crisis in Neuroscientific Research. The open source and structured design as well as the exclusion of human biases consolidate a robust and precise experimental paradigm which may easily be adapted in any language and culture.

Description of VR-EAL: The project pertains to the completion of everyday tasks i.e. detecting items that are required to do some activities (e.g. money, keys, book, garage opener, envelope and letter, medication pills/tablets) preparing breakfast, memorising a shopping list, planning the itinerary to convenience store, detecting posters of famous singers, spotting sounds in the environment, returning a book to the library, take medication on time, post a letter, and open the garage door. The user is in a flat where he requires to perform a series of tasks, and then should continue with going to specific places (post office, bakery, library, and convenience store) to perform the aforementioned tasks.

Purpose of the VR-EAL: The main incentive to realise this project is to develop an ecological valid neuropsychological assessment. Neuropsychological assessments are used to appraise cognitive (brain) functions such as Attention, Memory, Executive functions (merge, differentiate, and allocate information coming from the senses like vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), Visuospatial Functions (visual - perceptual skills of space e.g. understanding shapes), and Social Cognition (understand intentions, emotions, moral issues, and respond accordingly to the social context). Currently, the neuropsychological assessment of the cognitive functions relies predominantly to paper-pencil tests. The issue of the paper-pencil versions or even the computerised versions (digital versions for tablets or personal computers) is that they do not depict accurately the everyday functionality of the assessed person. This is due to lack of ecological validity (In common words the neuropsychological tests do not represent the real-life abilities and tasks). For example, someone may have scored high in the paper-pencil tests but in her/his everyday interaction in real life to be impaired or failing in supposedly “easy” tasks like cooking a meal or paying something on time. Of course, the latter example may be vice versa, failing in tests but being functional in everyday activities. The failure to represent the everyday functionality of the person by using paper-pencil or computerised tests may be resolved by implementing VR neuropsychological assessment (tests).

VR Platform, Industry, and target groups: VR-EAL will be a research and clinical tool for the assessment of everyday abilities (see details above). As a research and clinical tool, the target industry is the academia (e.g. universities and labs) and national health systems (e.g. hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community centres). The target groups are autistic individuals and outpatients (>1year after the incident) with brain injuries (either ABI or TBI) (or anyone with impaired daily finctionality). We require to evade any VR adverse effects and symptoms and to facilitate ergonomic movement and controls. Thus, the only option is high-end commercial HMDs like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Though, Vive seems to have better pick and place ergonomics as well as tracking system (lighthouse stations)

Comparison to existing VR assessments: The VR-EAL will use similar assessment criteria to the pre-existing VR assessments. Though, a benefit of the VR-EAL is that will be designed based on the capabilities of the recently dispersed high-end head mounted devices (HMDs) like HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift. The advantage, beyond offering better rendering and graphics, is the ergonomics for the interaction with and movement in the virtual environment. For example, as mentioned above, the better tracking system (e.g. lighthouse stations), the teleportation movement from one point to the other, and the wands (controllers) which enable a natural interaction like picking and placing objects, all the above facilitate an improved VR experience and alleviate the threat of experiencing nausea or other adverse VR induced symptomatology.

Conference details

European Neuroscience Conference by Doctoral Students (Berlin, Germany, 2018)) - Organised by FENS

Principal Speaker & Co-ordinator of the discussion group “Virtual Reality in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience”.

The Asian Perspective - Singapore University of Technology and Design (Edinburgh, Scotland, 2018)

Speaker-VR expert in the discussion group “Multidisciplinary Approaches to Advance Neuroscientific Research”

1st Hellenic Neuropsychological Conference (Athens, Greece,2018)

Principal Speaker in the round table “Cognitive and Behavioural Changes in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis”