New app 'can replace stimulants like Ritalin', researchers claim

App helps brain to focus, says Prof Barbara Sahakian

Martin Landy

A new brain training app designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge is as effective at improving concentration as using stimulants, it has been claimed.

A study suggests participants who used an app called Decoder, which asks players to tap the screen when they spot number sequences or patterns, showed improved attention span and concentration after eight hours of use over the course of a month.

It claims those who used the app showed increased performance comparable to the effects seen using stimulants such as Ritalin, a common treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers argue that the app could help with improving the concentration of young people who are having increasing problems with attention spans because of the rise of distractive technology such as social media.

Prof Barbara Sahakian, from the university's Department of Psychiatry, said: "We've all experienced coming home from work feeling that we've been busy all day, but unsure what we actually did.

"Most of us spend our time answering emails, looking at text messages, searching social media, trying to multi- task.


"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 television without picking up our smartphones.

"For complex tasks we need to get in the flow and stay focused."

Seventy-five young adults took part in the test, and were split into three groups, with one using the app, another playing bingo and a third group playing no game at all.

The researchers said those who played Decoder showed a significant difference in performance levels after playing the app, better than either of the other groups.

The app will now be released to the public by developer Peak and will be available on the Apple App Store from next Monday, with an Android version to be released later this year.

"Many people tell me that they have trouble focusing their attention. Decoder should help them improve their ability to do this," Prof Sahakian 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."