Decoder, a new brain training app, promises to improve user attention and concentration with only one month of use. 

On Sunday, Jan. 20, researchers from the University of Cambridge launched the free app that provides "a welcome antidote to daily distractions." An accompanying paper that discusses a trial involving individuals using the app every day for a month to improve their focus was also published. 

"We've all experienced coming home from work feeling that we've been busy all day, but unsure what we actually did," stated Barbara Sahakian, a professor at the university's Department of Psychiatry. "Most of us spend our time answering emails, looking at text messages, searching social media, trying to multitask. But instead of getting a lot done, we sometimes struggle to complete even a single task and fail to achieve our goal for the day."

Decode App Trial

Decoder app is based on the own research of Shakian and her colleague Gorge Savulich. They demonstrated that by playing the app on an iPad for a total of eight hours spread over one month, it enabled individuals to improve their focus during tests. 

They recruited 75 healthy young adults ages 18 to 30 years. None of the participants has previously received any psychiatric diagnosis. 

They were divided into three groups: one played with Decoder, another was assigned with Bingo, while the third one did not receive an app. The first two groups were asked to attend eight one-hour sessions over the course of the month to play Decoder or Bingo. 

The participants were tested at the beginning and at the end of the trial using the CANTAB Rapid Visual Information Processing (RVP) test. After four weeks, the participants who had used Decoder showed a significant difference in attention as measured by the CANTAB RVP test. 

Better Than Drugs

The researchers found that the differences between those who used Decode compared to the group assigned with Bingo and the control group were comparable to the effects of stimulants such as methylphenidate and nicotine. 

They hope to test whether the app can also improve the concentration of people who have troubles focusing, including those who have ADHD or traumatic brain injury. Sahakian said that they will begin testing with patients who have a traumatic brain injury later this year. 

"Many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence," stated Savulich. "Our evidence-based game is developed interactively and the games developer, 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."

The paper titled "Improvements in Attention Following Cognitive Training With the Novel 'Decoder' Game on an iPad" was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The app has been licensed to the developer Peak and was released as part of the Peak Brain Training available for free via the Apple App Store. A Google version is expected to be released later this year. 

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