Science XL" project: How the use of smartphones can revolutionize research in cognitive science


  • Dufau Stéphane

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Investigating human cognitive faculties such as language, attention, and memory most often relies on testing small and homogeneous groups of volunteers coming to research facilities where they are asked to participate in behavioral experiments. We show that this limitation and sampling bias can be overcome by using smartphone technology to collect data in cognitive science experiments from thousands of subjects from all over the world. We used iPhones and iPads to measure response times in a lexical decision study involving seven languages (Basque, Catalan, Dutch, English, French, Malay, Spanish). This innovative method allows millisecond-precise measurements, identical equipment across multiple countries, standardized cross-language studies, low experimental costs, and rapid transfer of data. The data collected so far show that response time distributions are strikingly similar to those obtained in laboratory conditions and predicted by mathematical models of decision processes i.e., right-skewed normal distribution. 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.

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