IT Innovation Contest

A team-based contest for creative IT solutions

Mobile training to enhance human attention

Proposal Status: 


Attention is a fundamental component process of virtually all aspects of human cognition. The ability to manage the barrage of sensory inputs that we encounter in the world is what allows us to engage in complex, goal-directed behavior. Deficits in attentional control are a core aspect of almost all neurological disorders and are increasingly prevalent in patients suffering from traumatic brain injury.

Because of this vulnerability to disease or trauma, a detailed understanding of the neural mechanisms for how the brain allocates attention is a critical component of our research.

The development of neuroscientifically targeted interventions to remediate cognitive deficits in populations with neurological or psychiatric disease, as well enhance these abilities in healthy individuals, is a critical missing link between basic science and clinical translation.



By the end of the project period we will have a fully developed suite of mobile cognitive training games designed to assess and enhance the limits of human attentional allocation and perception.

This enhancement will be based on our previous cognitive training research in the laboratory, but we will extend these results outside the lab by training attentional allocation and perception suing mobile and console gaming platforms including:

  • Apple iPhone
  • Apple iPad
  • Microsoft Xbox Kinect


Drs. Gazzaley and Voytek will work with expert software developers to translate our in-lab cognitive research tasks into mobile and console gaming platforms. Our ongoing research has shown that we can manipulate attentional allocation by manipulating the amount of information we provide subjects about where to allocate their attention.

Our goal with this project is to provide a fun, engaging at-home version of our laboratory task to train subjects on how to more successfully and more broadly allocation their attention.


Laboratory Results:

Voytek - Lab Results


Preliminary Kinect Results:

Voytek - Kinect Results


Our preliminary Kinect results show that we can capture the same general behavioral effect—that changing the amount of certainty given to the subjects on where to allocate their attention—leads to increases response times. 

This is encouraging that we can reproduce in-lab effects using a popular gaming platform.


Impact on UCSF’s Mission:

UCSF sits at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation. By taking in-lab findings out into the popular application distribution platforms such as Xbox Live and the Apple App Store, which reach millions of users globally, including many underserved populations, we can help keep UCSF as a world leader in translating science into health applications.


Team Members and Roles:

Bradley Voytek, PhD (75% effort): Post-doctoral fellow, UCSF Department of Neurology. Project and neuroscientific lead

Adam Gazzaley, MD/PhD (10% effort): Professor, UCSF Department of Neurology. Faculty advisor and mentor

Jacob Balthazor (100% effort): iPad/iPhone developer, Digital Media Academy

Jeffrey Chamberlain (100% effort): Kinect developer, USC Interactive Media Division


Sounds very interesting! Will your application have the ability to capture measurements of the user activity, their progress over time, etc. to potentially use the data for research? What would be the desired tangible outcomes for the individuals using this app?

Agree that the ability to use and capture the data would be useful, but should include a consent to allow this. I also wonder how improvement in real world tasks (where there are no embedded cues) is assessed ... subjectively? Could this also be tracked with the app?

Capturing performance data can be done with a EULA. Capturing any other data would need a more formal consent, which will certainly be worth applying for as move forward on this project. As far as improvement, one way of tracking such will be via separate pre- and post-training tests on a different attention or cognitive task to see if training leads to more broad improvements. The second way is within the game. Note how response times are slower when the attention information is less. The goal is that, with training, peoples' response times for the less-certain conditions will approach their response times for the more certain conditions.

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