This brain training app may help you stay focused, says new study

Cambridge University researchers developed the game Decoder to improve people's ability to concentrate.

(CNN)Our digital lives make concentration difficult. Everybody has experienced working on a task, then being interrupted by the swooshing sound of the email icon popping up, only to be side-tracked by the pinging notification of a text on our smartphones, or digital watches. By the time we return to our original project it feels as if we have to start all over, because we have lost our train of thought.

A group of Cambridge university researchers believes to have developed a "fun" solution to this modern problem. By playing a "brain training" game, called Decoder, players can increase their concentration. This success, they claim, has been backed up by scientific tests.
The inspiration behind the game for lead researcher Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge University, came from the large number of people who come to her with difficulties concentrating.
    We are "always shifting our attention between these technological things that we have in front of us" like laptops and phones, trying to complete multiple jobs at the same time, she said. "People are not working effectively because they can't direct their attention to one big problem."
      The Decoder game asks players to detect sequences of numbers, like 2-4-6, 3-5-7, 4-6-8. Using an Indiana Jones or James Bond like theme, the game asks players to decode number sequences which direct them to clues that solve missions.
      "It's quite good fun," according to Sahakian, who explained that players need to stay focused to spot the sequences and not think about something else or decide to check their emails. The game is also "something that can be fitted in" during a ten-minute break at work. Compared to other ways to refocus, like running, it does not require planning ahead or take up a lot of time, she explained.
      The brain's frontal parietal network, in charge of problem solving and attention, is activated during the game, she said. In the same way as exercising, doing tasks that can strengthen this part of the brain will keep it fit and enable people to do more than before, Sahakian explained. It is the "use it or lost it idea" Sahakian said. "Over time we would expect to see that frontal parietal network strengthen in the brain" and for players to be "much better at concentration" she added.
        In order to test the game's effect, the research team conducted a study published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience. For the study, 75 healthy participants were split into three groups: one that played Decoder, one that played no game at all and another group who played the game Bingo.
        A test was given to assess attention and concentration before and after the games were played. For that test, players see numbers from two to nine in the middle of their screen, at a rate of 100 digits per minute, and have to press a button when they spot a sequence.
        People who played Decoder for eight hours in one month showed significantly better attention than others who played Bingo or no game at all.
        The authors say that the difference is comparable to the effects of using stimulants, such as Ritalin -- a common medication prescribed as a treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.