A Mobile App Delivering a Gamified Battery of Cognitive Tests Designed for Repeated Play (OU Brainwave): App Design and Cohort Study

Thirkettle, Martin; Lewis, Jen; Langdridge, Darren and Pike, Graham (2018). A Mobile App Delivering a Gamified Battery of Cognitive Tests Designed for Repeated Play (OU Brainwave): App Design and Cohort Study. JMIR Serious Games, 6(4), article no. e10519.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/10519


Background: Mobile phone and tablet apps are an increasingly common platform to collect data. A key challenge for researchers has been participant “buy-in” and participant attrition for designs requiring repeated testing.
Objective: The objective of this study was to develop and asses the utility of 1 – 2 minute versions of both classic and novel cognitive tasks within a user focussed and driven mobile phone and tablet app designed to encourage repeated play.
Methods: A large sample (N = 13,979 at first data collection) participated in multiple, self-paced, sessions of working memory (N-back), spatial cognition (Mental rotation), sustained attentional focus (Persistent Vigilance task), and split attention (Multiple object tracking) tasks along with an implementation of a novel action learning task. A full morningness-eveningness questionnaire was also included. Data was collected across an 18 month period. While the app prompted reengagement at set intervals, each participant was free to repeatedly complete each task as many times as they wished.
Results: We found a significant relationship between morningness and age (r = 0.298, n = 12755, p < 0.001), though no effect of gender (t (13539) = -1.036, p = 0.30). We report good task adherence, with ~4000 participants repeatedly playing each game more than four times each - our minimum engagement level for analysis. The repeated plays of these games allow us to replicate commonly reported gender effects in the gamified spatial cognition (F (1, 4216) = 154.861, p<0.001, η_ρ^2 = 0.035), split attention (F (1, 4185) = 11.047, p=0.001, η_ρ^2 = 0.003), sustained attentional focus (F (1, 4238) = 15.993, p<0.001, η_ρ^2 = 0.004). We also found strong negative correlations between self-reported age and performance in the sustained attentional focus (N=1596, F (6, 1595) = 30.23, p<0.001, η2 = 0.102), working memory (N = 1627, F (6, 1626) = 19.78, p<0.001,η2 = 0.068), spatial cognition (N = 1640, F (6, 1639) = 23.74, p<0.001,η2 = 0.080)), and split attention (N = 1616, F(6,1615) = 2.48, p= 0.022, η2 = 0.009) tasks.
Conclusions: Using extremely short testing periods and permitting participants to decide their own level of engagement - both in terms of which gamified task they played, and how many sessions they completed - we were able to collect a substantial and valid dataset. We suggest that the success of OU brainwave should inform future research oriented apps - particularly in issues around balancing participant engagement with data fidelity.

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