Brain training game improves users’ concentration, study

A new ‘brain training’ game designed by Cambridge researchers could provide a welcome antidote to the daily distractions that we face in a busy world.


Brain-training apps are being used by tens of millions of people worldwide. Studies have found that brain-training games improve the “executive functions, working memory, and processing speed” of young people, while others hail the benefits of such games for preserving cognitive health in seniors.

Highlighting the benefits, Cambridge scientists have developed a new game called Decoder to help improve user’s attention and concentration. This form of attention activates a frontal-parietal network in the brain.

Scientists tested the game and demonstrated that playing Decoder on an iPad for eight hours over one month improves attention and concentration.

During the study, scientists categorized 75 Young adults in 3 groups: one group received Decoder, one control group played Bingo for the same amount of time and a second control group received no game.

Participants in the first two groups were invited to attend eight one-hour sessions over the course of a month during which they played either Decoder or Bingo under supervision.

All 75 participants were tested at the start of the trial and then after four weeks using the CANTAB Rapid Visual Information Processing test (RVP). CANTAB RVP has been demonstrated in previously published studies to be a highly sensitive test of attention/concentration.

Amid the test, members are solicited to recognize sequences from digits (for example 2-4-6, 3-5-7, 4-6-8). A white box shows up amidst screen, of which digits from 2 to 9 show up in a pseudo-random order, at a rate of 100 digits for each moment. Members are told to press a catch each time they distinguish a grouping. The term of the test is around five minutes.

Results from the study showed a significant difference in attention as measured by the RVP. Those who played Decoder were better than those who played Bingo and those who played no game. The difference in performance was significant and meaningful as it was comparable to those effects seen using stimulants, such as methylphenidate, or nicotine.

Professor Sahakian commented: “Many people tell me that they have trouble focussing their attention. The decoder should help them improve their ability to do this. In addition to healthy people, we hope that the game will be beneficial for patients who have impairments in attention, including those with ADHD or traumatic brain injury. We plan to start a study with traumatic brain injury patients this year.”

Dr. George Savulich, co-author of the study said, “Many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Our evidence-based game is developed interactively and the developer of the game, 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.”

“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,” says Professor Sahakian. “By licensing our game, we hope it can reach a wide audience who are able to benefit by improving their attention.”

Xavier Louis, CEO of Peak, adds: “At Peak, we believe in an evidence-based approach to brain training. This is our second collaboration with Professor Sahakian and her work over the years shows that playing games can bring significant benefits to brains. We are pleased to be able to bring Decoder to the Peak community, to help people overcome their attention problems.”

The study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience– is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.


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