The Great Brain Experiment
As part of Brain Awareness Week 2013, a team of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging are launching an experimental app. Rick Adams tells us more.
Have you ever wondered how your brain works? How it compares to other people’s? Or what scientists are doing to try to understand the workings of the mind? Well now you have a chance to find out – ‘The Great Brain Experiment’ is a mobile phone app that will let you – and us – experiment on your brain!
The Great Brain Experiment was developed by me and my fellow neuroscientists* at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL. It features four neuroscience experiments that we use in our research into how the mind works. We handed the details of the experiments over to a game programmer**, who has developed them to look much more like arcade games than our usual experiments. Dare I say it, they might even be more fun…
Although they might look the part, there is a major difference between standard mobile games and The Great Brain Experiment. As you might have guessed, by playing the games, you will actually become part of a giant scientific study! With your permission your game scores will be sent to us anonymously, for further analysis in our lab. Then, as the results flood in, we’ll be able to use your scores to investigate the function of the human brain.
Each game looks at a different aspect of brain function: how good we are at stopping ourselves from doing something, how good our short term memory is, how quickly we can take in visual objects, whether we prefer to take risks or stay safe, and how these choices affect our happiness.
So why are we interested in these things? Well, let’s take the example of the ‘stopping ourselves’ game. This game can give us a measure of the player’s impulsivity – whether we can rein ourselves in at the last minute, or whether the response we were planning just comes out anyway. I’m sure we can all think of real world examples of things we’ve said or done “on impulse” – a hasty purchase or a tactless comment – without being able to stop ourselves in time. Some people seem to do this more often than others; at the extreme end of the spectrum are those people with clinical disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Impulsivity may also have a role in drug addiction. Our hope is that research in this area could lead to better understanding and treatment of these conditions – which is where you come in!
If you and thousands of others play these games, we will get a lot of data. We can then ask questions about how different kinds of people perform: do older people make less risky decisions? Do younger people care more if they lose? Are men more impulsive than women? Does more education mean more short term memory? It’s hard to answer these questions if you only look at 20 people, who are often quite similar, as our usual lab experiments do. But by using games, we can gather lots of information and all you have to do is have fun playing them.
As a bonus, after playing a game, you will be able to see how your score (and your brain) compares to those of everyone else who has played. How will you compare? Are you as good as you think you are? Now you can find out…
So please go ahead and download the app – it’s freely available on both iPhone and Android now – we promise it’s one impulse decision you won’t regret!
*Rick Adams, Harriet Brown, Robb Rutledge, Peter Smittenaar and Peter Zeidman
**Neil Millstone of White Bat games