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Cambridge University’s brain-training app works like Ritalin without the side effects

Cambridge University’s brain-training app works like Ritalin without the side effects

Usually, if you’re idly flipping through your phone, it’s because you’re distracted–or you want to be distracted–from whatever you’re supposed to be working on. But if you have a hard time concentrating in general, don’t worry: There’s an app for that.

Researchers at Cambridge University’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute have developed a brain-training app called Decoder that helps improve attention and concentration. In the game, users play an intelligence officer tasked with breaking up a global criminal organization by identifying different combinations of number strings in missions littered with distraction. Every time you win a mission, the app unlocks clues to the next criminal location.

For a study published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, 75 healthy young adults were divided into three groups, of which one would play the app, one got to play bingo, and the other was sadly given no game at all. In the group that was tasked with playing Decoder on an iPad for eight hours over the course of a month (not in a single day, you screen junkies), researchers saw neurological improvements in concentration and attention that were comparable to those taking stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or nicotine. Additionally, researchers found that the “subjective measures of enjoyment, motivation, alertness, and positive mood remained at high levels in those who played Decoder after every hour of game play.

“While healthy young adults were used as participants in the current study, the aim of cognitive training with Decoder for future studies is to assess whether it can improve attentional performance, a key cognitive domain that is impaired in ADHD, schizophrenia, and brain injury,” they wrote.

The app is now available on iPhones, and will be on Android later in 2019.

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