Smartphones revolutionise scientific research

Smartphones used by scientists to carry out experiments

Smartphone technology is being used by scientists to carry out psychological experiments instead of bringing participants into the lab.

The researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, joined an international team to launch an iPhone/iPad app that people could download for free in seven languages. Instead of bringing participants into laboratories to study the internal mental processes involved in how humans remember, think, speak and solve problems, the app allows the scientists access to millions of participants at the touch of a button. The researchers used an original lab-based experiment and adapted it for use on an iPhone.

With the number of iPhone users worldwide expected to exceed one billion by 2013 the researchers wanted to find out if they were able to utilise this market to revolutionise research in cognitive science.

Professor Kathy Rastle, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said: “We wanted to find out if we could harness the precision of these mini computers to conduct experiments on a global scale that involve unprecedented numbers of participants.  Results collected so far are strikingly similar to those obtained in laboratory conditions, demonstrating the potential for capitalising on this technology in the future.”

“It could change the way that human social and psychological research is conducted because it allows us to access vast numbers of individuals from a range of demographics relatively inexpensively. We managed to test almost 5,000 participants in a period of three months, which would have taken years in a lab and incurred very substantial costs,” she said.

The app, called the "Science XL: Test your word power", tests the participants word power by asking them to decide whether each word presented is a real word or a non-word. The application measures accuracy and importantly the time taken to make such decisions.

This task has historically provided considerable insight into the cognitive processes involved in skilled reading as well as reading impairments such as dyslexia, through measuring millisecond-level response time and accuracy in deciding if a letter string is a word or not.

Further information:

Find out how to get involved in the Science XL research. 

The app is free to download from iTunes AppStore (search for "Science XL").

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