A new app that aims to bypass expensive neuroimaging scanners and bring brain research to your smartphone screen hopes to use "big data" principles to unlock more of the mind's secrets through the familiarity of games. The iOS and Android app, The Great Brain Experiment, is the handiwork of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL, and tests memory, impulse control, happiness, and visual perception, with tests that would traditionally have meant extended stays in an fMRI scanner.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners give researchers a view of blood flow through different areas of the brain during task-completion, and have been essential to the greater understanding of how cognition and other aspects work. However, they're also expensive and can't really be wheeled out into the public, which means study trials generally feature just a few people.
In contrast, the apps for iOS and Android are free, and while lacking the deep insight into the mechanics of the brain of each player, instead open the door to "the largest neuroscience experiment ever conducted," according to pHD student and co-developer Harriet Brown. "The Great Brain Experiment is one of a new generation of neuroscience experiments that 'gamify' data collection and crowdsource it to gain a wider audience" she explains, "allowing us to ask some interesting questions to a wider population than we are usually able to reach."
Four games within the app are offered, each testing a different element of neurology. Impulse testing, for instance, could have implications for ADHD and drug addiction understanding, while a game measuring the extent of "brain blink" - where we miss images when they are shown in rapid succession - could gage how prevalent it is among different demographics.
You can download The Great Brain Experiment for iOS now [iTunes link]. The Wellcome Trust says the Android version should arrive very soon.