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ASU's iLux Lab looking at exercise's impact on social, emotional intelligence

Experiments are just the start in partnership with adidas to explore the future of sport

adidas researchers tour an ASU lab
January 12, 2018

A lab at Arizona State University is measuring the link between exercise and higher thinking.

The experiments, part of the partnership that ASU has forged with adidas to explore the future of sport, are being done in the iLux Lab, which stands for “Innovative Learner and User Experience.”

Robert Atkinson, an associate professorAtkinson has a joint appointment in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering in the Ira A. Schools of Engineering and the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. His research explores the intersection of cognitive science, informatics, instructional design, and educational technology. at ASU who leads the lab, started working several months ago with researchers from adidas, who were interested in the unique services offered by iLux. The lab has a comprehensive biometric sensor suite that includes EEG, brain computer interface, eye tracking, facial coding and galvanic skin response. The researchers can measure a person’s physical responses to different kinds of stimuli. 

“At adidas, they believe that through sport, we have the power to change lives,” Atkinson said. “We wanted to come up with something that would contribute to that idea.”

Adidas has a consumer research lab with similar capabilities at its North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

“By working collaboratively, we (ASU and adidas) can accomplish more than working individually. ‘Open source’ is a critical part of our global strategy, which means we work with partners, like ASU, that have knowledge, skills and abilities that help to push us beyond our internal capabilities,” said Aurel Coza, director of Applied Science and Future at adidas.

The work at iLux Lab is part of the adidas and ASU Global Sport Alliance, a strategic partnership aimed at shaping the future of sport and amplifying sport’s positive impact on society. The partnership will bring together education, athletics and research to explore topics including race, sustainability and human potential.

The partnership, launched in June, will investigate issues such as sustainability in sport, athletic potential and consumer behavior, which is at the heart of what the iLux lab can do.

So now, Atkinson’s team is conducting two experiments to measure cognitive effects related to exercise.

“Generally, the belief is that with exercise, you’re activating some problem-solving capabilities and spatial reasoning,” he said.

The ongoing experiments are using two groups of students, one that exercises regularly and one that doesn’t. The exercisers were asked to skip their workouts for a few days, take a battery of tests, and then resume exercising and return to the lab within two hours to retakes the tests.

“The belief is that exercise activates these mechanisms and they’re heightened immediately after exercise,” Atkinson said.

The non-exercise group also came to the lab twice and took the same tests, which involve activities such as tapping a button to measure dexterity, as well as filling out questionnaires.

Early results indicate that exercise has a significant impact on social and emotional intelligence. That may mean that before a big presentation or important meeting you may be better off going for a run than cramming or rehearsing a few more times.

Another research project in the works involves using eye trackers on basketball players to test their reactions to new apparel designs.

Through the partnership, the company can leverage the expertise of the iLux lab along with an almost unlimited supply of young people as test subjects, Atkinson said.

“We’re doing things they value, and we can do it quickly,” he said.

Atkinson gave a tour of his lab to adidas researchers several months ago.

“The brainstorming that went on in those early meetings was remarkable for how many different things the folks at adidas were thinking of and how the researchers here at ASU can help them,” he said.

The research projects conducted so far between adidas’ Consumer Behavior Lab and ASU’s iLux lab are just the beginning of planned research collaborations between adidas and ASU. Targeted areas of exploration include sport performance, consumer experience and product design.

Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Robert Atkinson (right) demonstrates eye-tracking equipment to a group of adidas researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering's iLux Lab. The adidas group was observing how the university applies its biometric sensors to predict and determine human behavior. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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