Best Mobile Apps to Measure Your Cognitive Performance
One of the self-tracking projects that I always wanted to do was to determine the impact of sleep, diet and exercise regimen on my mental and cognitive abilities. So last month, I turned to the app store to look for mobile tools that could help me to measure and track my cognitive performance. After three weeks of searching and testing, I finally found three apps that I can use with confidence in my self-tracking experiments.
Before turning to mobile applications, of course, I tried Quantified Mind. To my knowledge, Quantified Mind is the best web platform that provides over a dozen of scientifically valid tools for assessing and tracking low and high cognitive abilities. It, however, has one major drawback: you need a computer. When I tried incorporating Quantified Mind into my daily self-tracking routine, I soon realized that: 1) I often feel lazy or simply did not have time to turn on/off my laptop in the mornings, and 2) my laptop keyboard was not really suitable for some of the tests (e.g., tasks requiring using number keys to select/switch between the objects at a fast pace). But I still plan to use Quantified Mind tools to validate the data that I get from the apps.
The review methodology was simple and straightforward. I first searched the app store using keywords “cognitive”, “mental”, “n-back”, “alertness”, “executive function”, “attention”, “cognition”, and “focus”. I then excluded all the apps that did not meet the following criteria:
- app should simply measure cognitive or mental skills/abilities, as opposed to training or improving them
- measurement methods used in the app should be as close to scientific as possible (a lot of game apps failed this requirement)
- the tests should take as little time as possible (preferably under 5 min)
I then tested each app for a couple of weeks daily, in the morning (right before breakfast), in the afternoon (around 3 pm), and in the evening (around 8 pm), mainly looking for any glitches and ease of use. At the end, only a few “made the cut”:
Mind Metrics is an awesome app that lets you measure alertness (using standard psychomotor vigilance test ), higher cognitive abilities such as attention and memory (using standard N-back test), and their combination. You can control the number of trials and timing for both tests, and the N-back test difficulty level can be set for N from 1 to up to 4. In the first version of the altertness test, Psychomotor Vigilance Task, you are asked to tap the sun as soon as it appears in the same part of the screen randomly every few seconds. In the second version of alertness test, Spatial Psychomotor Vigilance Task, sun appears in the random parts of the screen every few seconds. After completing a preset number of trials (I set mine at 10), you get both the average reaction time and the “alertness score” (which takes into account also hits and misses). The memory
test is also offered in two versions. In the first version, Location N-back, you are asked to remember the location of the moon as it appeared on the screen N trials back. The second version, Color N-back, requires you to recall the color of the lightning bolts that appeared N trials back. After completing preset number of trials, you get both average reaction time and average attention/memory score. You can see all your current and previous scores on the screen, and also e-mail them to yourself in comma separated format. One minor suggestion to developers: data is sent not as an attachment (CSV file) but in the body of e-mail, so the data points are difficult to parse out. Images on the right (click to enlarge): Alertness Test (“tap the sun”) and Memory Task (“lightning bolts”).
Focus Monitor is an app built by Think Now, and is primarily intended for clinicians. It is absolutely free, and measures attention/focus based on the Sustained Attention to Response Task test. In this test, sequence of number appears on the screen at a fast pace, each number is followed by an “X”. You are asked to tap the screen every time you see the number, except when “3” apears. The test lasts 4 minutes, after which you get your attention score. While the app offers you an opportunity to create a profile to store and track your scores, I could never complete the registration process, due to malfunctioning CAPTCHA. I contacted think-now.com a couple of times with request to fix the problem, and they promised to look into that. As of today, the problem has not been fixed yet. You can still measure your attention without registration, but will need to record your score somewhere else (I use rTracker to log both Mind Metrics and Focus Monitor scores).
Cognition app offers about 40 different tests, most of them to measure low-level cognitive skills, such as hand-eye coordination, color/shape/size/movement recognition, timing, planning, path-finding, etc. All tests are easy to understand and last no more than one minute. The scores are reported after each test and are stored in the table, but can not exported, so you will have to log them manually somewhere else. Image on the right (click to enlarge): shape sorting test.
In addition to the three apps listed above that I have been using personally, I would like to mention an app that has a great potential, despite the fact that its developers screwed up so badly in one important aspect. The BrainBaseline app offers nine cognitive tests (Blink, Flanker, N-Back, PMS, Posner, Speed, Stroop, Task Switch, VSTM), all well-known and widely used in cognitive and experimental psychology. These tests take between one and 3 minutes to perform, and the app itself is very user friendly and aesthetically pleasing. There is, however, one very serious flaw: while you can track your progress on the chart, and compare your performance against other users, you never see the actual scores. Yes, you read it correctly. You can take tests, but you never know your scores! You can only gauge if you scored better or worse than before, based on the chart. I cannot think of any logical reason behind this decision. I contacted company behind this app by e-mail about this issue, but never heard back yet.
I will continue testing these three apps in the next couple of months, and will keep you posted!
(photo credit: MindDisorders.com)