Computer Scientists, Medics, Neuroscientists and Psychologists now have a legitimate reason to put aside the books and pick up their smartphones. This is the news that researchers have been using mobile phone apps to conduct real scientific experiments. Scores and gaming patterns from four puzzles from the Great Brain Experiment app are being used to measure people’s cognitive functions – namely the human propensity for risk and impulsive behaviour. The “Am I Impulsive?” game, for example, asks participants to smash fruit that is falling from a tree using their fingers, but to refrain from smashing it when it is rotting, indicated by the fruit turning brown. Eyebrows were raised when the results of these games were used as part of serious scientific experiments, but a team from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging found that they were as reliable as lab experiments, with the added value of a much larger sample size. Dr Zeidman,a neuroscientist from University College London, outlined the benefit of such experiments for further medical, psychiatric or neurological studies, ‘’People with certain psychiatric illnesses or neurological problems have an impaired ability to inhibit their actions, for example ADHD or schizophrenia… If we can better understand just in the healthy population how people inhibit their actions then we’ll learn a lot more.” Already the results from one of the games have been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and used in research looking at workingmemory – when information is held for only a very short time. The long-term aim of such research is for game data to be combined with medical, genetic or lifestyle information to learn more about the relationship between well-being and a person’s psychological characteristics.
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