Smart Phones Prove Valuable Aid to Research

With the worldwide number of smart phone users projected to surpass one billion by 2013, it makes sense to explore how this ubiquitous technology can better serve an ever-expanding human population. In much the same way that Twitter was recently utilized by researchers at Cornell University to assess global patterns of mood and attitude fluctuation over the course of the day and the seasons of the year, cognitive psychologists are using smart phones and iPads to gather data on a larger, more diverse pool of test subjects than would be possible under the limitations encountered during traditional research trials.

Smart Phones Prove Valuable Aid to ResearchAuthors of a study recently published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS), Smart Phone, Smart Science: How the Use of Smartphones Can Revolutionize Research in Cognitive Science, have been working on a project that’s using iPhones and iPads to collect information from 4,157 test subjects in seven different languages (English, Spanish, French, Catalan, Basque, Malay, and Dutch). While they only began in December of 2010 (less than a year ago), they’ve already accumulated data that would, under normal research conditions, take more than three years to collect. The project set out to investigate subjects’ ability to tell words from similar non-words (such as tible vs. table).

According to the researchers: “This innovative research involving volunteer smart phone users from all over the world not only allows us to better understand how the brain recognizes words, but indeed opens up vast possibilities for future large-scale research on aspects of human cognition such as memory and aging, cultural differences in perception of facial emotional expression, or reading development in children.”

It’s good to see scientists using technology in new and creative ways to further their research, though it hardly comes as a surprise — they’re pretty clever about dreaming up new tricks for old dogs. Aside from using smart phones for collecting data quickly and efficiently, what other uses can you think of that would prove smart phones to be even more efficacious toward improving the way that we do things?