Using Smartphones as Research Tools

Using Smartphones as Research ToolsThe ubiquity of the cell phone is perhaps the defining aspect of the first decade of the 21st century. Ninety percent of Americans and over 5 billion individuals worldwide currently use cell phones.

Apps are available for an untold number of tasks with new software created daily. Now, a new European research effort examines the use of smartphones for psychological research.

The study was sparked two years ago when researcher Josef Bless was listening to music on his phone when he had an idea.

“I noticed that the sounds of the different instruments were distributed differently between the ears, and it struck me that this was very similar to the tests we routinely use in our laboratory to measure brain function.

“In dichotic listening, each ear is presented with a different syllable at the same time (one to the left and one to the right ear) and the listener has to say which syllable seems clearest. The test indicates which side of the brain is most active during language processing,” Bless said.

This inspiration has led to the development of an iPhone app, a program designed to help Bless and his fellow researcher’s study which side of your brain is most active in language processing.

The iPhone app for dichotic listening is called iDichotic and was launched on the App Store in 2011, where it can be downloaded for free.

Some one year later, more than 1,000 people have downloaded the app, and roughly half have sent their test results to the researchers’ database.

The researchers analyzed the first 167 results they received and compared them with the results of 76 individuals tested in laboratories in Norway and Australia. The results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

“We found that the results from the app were as reliable as those of the controlled laboratory tests. This means that smartphones can be used as a tool for psychological testing, opening up a wealth of exciting new possibilities,” said Bless.

“The app makes it possible to gather large volumes of data easily and inexpensively. I think we will see more and more psychological tests coming to smartphones,” he said.

The researchers have also developed a special version of iDichotic for patients with schizophrenia who suffer from auditory hallucinations (i.e. hear “voices”). The app helps in training patients to improve their focus, so that when they hear voices, they are better able to shut them out.

“Using a mobile app, patients can be tested and receive training at home, instead of having to come to our laboratory,” said Bless.

Bless said you can download iDichotic from the App Store. The listening test takes three minutes and tells you which side of your brain is most active in language processing.

Most people primarily use the left side of the brain, but for a minority (including many left-handed people) the right side of the brain is more involved in language processing.

In addition, the test measures attention when the task is to focus on one ear at a time. Participants can send results to the researchers if they wish.

Source: The University of Bergen

Abstract smartphone photo by shutterstock.

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