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iPhone App Tests Selective Dominant-Ear Listening Behavior

Josef Bless (University of Bergen)

Josef Bless (University of Bergen)

Psychologists at University of Bergen in Norway wrote software that turns an iPhone into a device to test dichotic listening, behavior that combines language processing and attention. A team from Bergen’s research group examined the iPhone app’s validity and reliability in measuring dichotic listening, with the team’s results appearing online yesterday in the journal Frontiers in Cognition.

Dichotic listening provides clues to neuropsychological development, specifically left/right hemisphere differences and dominance. Doctoral student Josef Bless (pictured right) developed the iPhone test of dichotic listening with Bergen software developer Magne Gudmundsen, and released the test to the iTunes store as a free app, called iDichotic, in 2011.

The test on the iPhone resembles dichotic listening tests given in psychological labs, which indicate the dominant side of the brain for language processing. In the app, explains Bless, “each ear is presented with a different syllable at the same time — one to the left and one to the right ear — and the listener has to say which syllable seems clearest.”

Since its release, more than 1,000 iPhone owners have downloaded the app from iTunes, and about half of those individuals sent shared their test results to the Bergen researchers. The paper published yesterday reports on data from the first 167 of these participants. The results from the iPhone users were then compared to results of traditional lab-based dichotic listening tests given to 76 individuals in Norway and Australia.

The first part of the study tested and retested participants using the iPhone app and a PC version resembling a conventional lab test in Norway and Australia, to discover the reliability of the iPhone app compared to the more conventional PC test. The results showed both high validity and reliability of the iPhone app, even higher than the PC version.

The second part of the study compared iPhone app test results from the 167 users worldwide to patterns found in larger lab-based dichotic listening tests. The results showed many similarities, such as greater right-ear-advantage in iPhone app users that data from conventional lab tests also uncovered.

“We found that the results from the app were as reliable as those of the controlled laboratory tests,” says Bless. “This means that smartphones can be used as a tool for psychological testing, opening up a wealth of exciting new possibilities.”

Among those possibilities is a version of iDichotic made for schizophrenia sufferers who experience auditory hallucinations. The app helps schizophrenia patients improve their focus, so they can better shut out those hallucinations when they are experienced. “I think we will see more and more psychological tests coming to smartphones,” Bless adds.

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