Brain-training app that improves concentration

Photo credit: Wes Hicks

If you’ve ever convinced yourself that your lack of attention might be better helped with medication, think again: a simple brain-training app from Cambridge University just might be the ticket. The university’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute has developed and tested “Decoder”, an app which activates a frontal-parietal network in the brain that is designed to improve attention and concentration. In a study published in the scientific journal, Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, researchers — led by the Department of Psychiatry’s Professor Barbara Sahakian — found that the app’s use on an iPad for eight hours over the course of a month resulted in neurological improvements in healthy trial participants that were comparable to those taking stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or nicotine.

Decoder, developed in collaboration with a games developer, gets users to assume the role of an intelligence officer tasked with breaking up global criminal gangs (users are able to select a character and their backstory). To meet the objective, users have to identify different combinations of number strings in missions littered with distraction. Winning each mission means users unlock letters of the next criminal location (the higher the score, the more letters revealed). Within each location, users have up to three missions allocated, with the difficulty of each mission matched to a user’s performance in real time.

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