How to Improve Your Concentration Thanks to Apps

Posted on: February 6th, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

Have you heard about the new ‘brain training' game or app designed by Cambridge University which has been proven to improve people’s concentration?

The app was designed by Cambridge’s Psychiatry's Department and tests show that it is as effective as taking concentration stimulants like Ritalin or nicotine. The Cambridge researchers say you need to use the app on an iPad for eight hours over one month to get the full benefits.

After hearing about this app on the radio I decided to investigate, and made my way to the Cambridge website. If you ever hear about some research that interests you through the media I strongly recommend you make your way to the university’s actual website and read about the research ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’. 

Young people’s concentration span is shortening

I learnt that the app makers were inspired to design this app because they fear young people are struggling to concentrate. New technologies, like emails, require rapid responses. Also we now tend to work on multiple projects simultaneously, consequently young people are having more problems sustaining their attention and are frequently become distracted. Also we live in a ‘global’ world that never sleeps and we’re constantly travelling leading to jetlag and poor quality sleep.

“We’ve all experienced coming home from work feeling that we’ve been busy all day, but unsure what we actually did,” said Professor Barbara Sahakian from Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry on the official Cambridge website. “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. Then we go home, and even there we find it difficult to ‘switch off’ and read a book or watch TV without picking up our smartphones. For complex tasks we need to get in the ‘flow’ and stay focused.”

A new brain-trainer based on science

The team at Cambridge have developed and tested ‘Decoder’, a new game that improves attention and concentration. The game is based on scientifically evaluated research.

In their study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, the team demonstrate that playing Decoder on an iPad for eight hours over one month improves attention and concentration. This form of attention activates a frontal-parietal network in the brain.

For the trial, the researchers divided 75 healthy young adults into three groups: one group received Decoder, one control group played Bingo  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 is a highly sensitive test of attention/concentration.

During the test, participants were asked to detect sequences of numbers (e.g. 2-4-6, 3-5-7, 4-6-8). A white box appears in the middle of screen, of which digits from 2 to 9 appear in a pseudo-random order, at a rate of 100 digits per minute. Participants are instructed to press a button every time they detect a sequence. These tests take approximately five minutes.

Results from the study showed a big difference in attention

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 Ritalin, or nicotine. Ritalin, is a common treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

To ensure that Decoder improved focussed attention and concentration without impairing the ability to shift attention, the researchers also tested participants’ ability on the Trail Making Test. Decoder performance also improved on this commonly used neuropsychological test of attentional shifting. 

During this test, participants first had to work with numbers then shift their attention to letters and then shift back to numbers. Also, participants enjoyed playing the game, and motivation remained high during their eight hours of gameplay.

The app will help if your concentration wanders

Professor Sahakian said many people complain that they have trouble focussing their attention. 

“Decoder should help them improve their ability to do this,” she said. “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 Savulich said many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. 

“Our evidence-based game is developed interactively and the games developer has ensured that it is engaging and fun to play,” she said. “The level of difficulty is matched to the individual player and participants enjoy the challenge of the cognitive training.”

The game is licensed through Cambridge Enterprise to app developer Peak, who specialise in evidence-based ‘brain training’ apps. 

You can use it for free

Peak has developed a version for Apple devices. Peak Brain Training is available from the App Store for free.

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

It is Peak’s second collaboration with Professor Sahakian and her work over the years shows that playing games can bring significant benefits to brains.

“At Peak we believe in an evidenced-based approach to brain training,” said Xavier Louis, CEO of Peak. “We are pleased to be able to bring Decoder to the Peak community, to help people overcome their attention problems.”

If you want to test out this app for free you will find it here. Let me know if it improves your concentration.

The Decoder app


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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