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iPhones 'excellent for doing experiments on their owners'

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Fears among Reg readers that iPhones will be used to conduct psychological experiments on Apple worshipping owners will surely intensify this morning thanks to a pronouncement by brain boffins.

Fortunately we're not talking about Cupertino agents sending subliminal messages to punters - we mean actual scientists conducting actual psychological experiments without the need to don white coats and drag test subjects into sterile labs: much psychological research relies on getting groups of humans into featureless rooms to ask them questions. It's time consuming and restricts the number and type of people that can be surveyed.

Surveying participants by iPhone would lower the costs and broaden the scope of future research, and scientists at Royal Holloway University suggest that data gathered by iPhone is scientifically valid. Their conclusions are detailed in a paper published in the journal PloS One.

Professor Kathy Rastle of Royal Holloway replicated a lab-based experiment with an group of testers equipped with iPhones and found that the results garnered from the Jesus Mobe users tallied with those done in laboratory conditions.

She explains: "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's not an entirely new idea, (see the research app from LSE last year, Mappiness) but it gives a scientific basis to results gathered that way. Psych testing by iPhone would work specially well in research that involves language, attention, and memory.

The researchers make big claims for their discovery:

Smartphone technology (as in iPhone/iPad) offers high temporal and spatial resolution with built-in millisecond timing of stimuli display and touchscreen responses. Individual iPhones are tools that are portable, easy to use, multimedia-enabled and identical in every country and for each user, with ready Internet transfer of collected data. These properties render it an instrument ideally adapted to studying cognitive functions ...

This mass coordinated use of smartphones creates a novel and powerful scientific “instrument” that yields the data necessary to test universal theories of cognition. This increase in power represents a potential revolution in cognitive science.

Of course, it's debatable how universal the mental processes of iPhone owners are but there are well over 100million iPhones in the world so there must be some variety in the group.

You can view the research on PLoS One here and test your language skills on the ScienceXL language app here. ®

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