Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

New game improves attention span over time

24 January 2019

Researchers from the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge developed an app that improves the user’s concentration. The app is called Decoder and it uses games to help the user improve attention spans.

Decoder brain training game on Peak. (Source: Peak)Decoder brain training game on Peak. (Source: Peak)

The team tested Decoder on a group of 75 healthy young adults. The participants were separated into three groups. Group one received an iPad loaded with Decoder, group two received an iPad loaded with a Bingo app and group three received nothing. Groups one and two went to eight one-hour gameplay sessions over the course of one month. During these sessions, the participants were instructed to play the game while being supervised. The researchers noticed that the participant’s motivation remained high as the gaming sessions went on.

The group was tested at the beginning and end of the study using Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery Rapid Visual Information Processing (CANTAB RVP). RVP is a highly sensitive test for attention and concentration.

The individuals were asked to detect sequences of numbers. A white box popped up on the screen, displaying various groups of numbers at a rate of about 100 digits per minute. The participants were instructed to press a button when they thought the computer was displaying a sequence. The test lasted five minutes.

The results of the testing proved that Decoder significantly improved the concentration of group one. Group one’s test results were better than group two and group three. The test results of group one were similar to the test results of people who had used a stimulant, like nicotine or Ritalin.

Dr. George Savulich, a member of the research team, said, "Many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Our evidence-based game is developed interactively and the game's developer, Tom Piercy, ensures that it is engaging and fun to play. The level of difficulty is matched to the individual player and participants enjoy the challenge of the cognitive training."

The team also tested the participants' concentration abilities with a Trail Making Test. In this test, participants are asked to look at a set of letters, a set of numbers and then back to a set of letters and find the sequences. Group one’s results from the Trail Making Test beat those of groups two and three. On top of the positive results, the participants reported that they enjoyed playing Decoder.

The Decoder game is currently available for Apple products through Peak’s Brain Training app, with plans for an Android release later this year.

"Peak's version of Decoder is even more challenging than our original test game, so it will allow players to continue to gain even larger benefits in performance over time," said Professor Sahakian. "By licensing our game, we hope it can reach a wide audience who are able to benefit by improving their attention."

The team wants to further develop Decoder to help patients with ADHD and traumatic brain injury. They are planning on testing Decoder with traumatic brain injury patients later in 2019.

A paper on Decoder was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

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