Some psychological disorders, even though hard to treat, could now be addressed as effectively with a mobile app as during face-to-face visits to a medical practitioner.

Can a smartphone application be used to assess, and even sometimes treat, psychological disorders as reliably as a face-to-face consultation with a doctor? This is what findings by Josef Bless, a doctoral researcher in Psychology at the Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen in Norway appear to indicate. He bases his conclusions on the results of an experiment* which he and colleagues carried out with iDichotic, a mobile application that the team created to simulate a dichotic listening test – a ‘behavioural test for hemispheric lateralisation of speech sound perception’. The app is currently being used in conjunction with laboratory tests. More than 1,000 people have downloaded the app, and the researchers have analysed the first 167 results received and compared them with the results of 76 individuals tested in labs in Norway and Australia. Bless explains that the app enabled his team to gather large amounts of data at low cost, and he believes there will soon be an increasing number of psychological tests available on smartphones.

Testing at home

Patients will no longer have to go to a clinic or lab in order to take a psychological test; they will be able to do so at home, using the app. Once the app has been downloaded the dichotic listening test takes only three minutes. The test is designed to show which part of the brain is most active when processing language. Most people generally use the left side of the brain, but a minority – among them large numbers of left-handed people – use the right side of their brain more for speech processing. The test also measures ‘selective attention abilities’ – when a participant is presented with two different speech stimuli simultaneously.

Smartphone as tool to help treat disorders?

Smartphones currently offer a range of possibilities for psychological research. Now researchers have also developed a special version of iDichotic for patients with schizophrenia who suffer from auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). The app helps to train patients to improve their focus, so that when they hear hallucinatory voices, they are better able to shut them out. This would mean that both testing and treatment could be carried out remotely, via a smartphone, thus “opening up a wealth of exciting new possibilities,” underlines Bless.

* “Right on all Occasions?” – On the feasibility of laterality research using a smartphone
dichotic Arciuli, Kristiina Kompus, Magne Gudmundsen and Kenneth Hugdahl; publ. Frontiers in