Blog Archives

Psychology experiments enter the post-PC era: OpenSesame now runs on Android

smartphones-picard-uses-androidI’ve mentioned OpenSesame briefly on here before, but for those of you who weren’t keeping up, it’s a pretty awesome, free psychology experiment-developing application, built using the Python programming language, and it has a lot in common with PsychoPy (which is also awesome).

The recently-released new version of OpenSesame has just taken an important step, in that it now supports the Android mobile operating system, meaning that it can run natively on Android tablets and smartphones. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that a psychology-experimental application has been compiled (and released to the masses) for a mobile OS.

This is cool for lots of reasons. It’s an interesting technical achievement; Android is a very different implementation to a desktop OS, being focused heavily on touch interfaces. Such interfaces are now ubiquitous, and are much more accessible, in the sense that people who may struggle with a traditional mouse/keyboard can use them relatively easily. Running psychology experiments on touch-tablets may enable the study of populations (e.g., the very young, very old, or various patient groups) that would be very difficult with a more ‘traditional’ system. Similarly, conducting ‘field’ studies might be much more effective; I can imagine handing a participant a tablet for them to complete some kind of task in the street, or in a shopping mall, for instance. Also, it may open up the possibility of using the variety of sensors in modern mobile devices (light, proximity, accelerometers, magnetometers) in interesting and creative ways. Finally, the hardware is relatively cheap, and (of course) portable.

I’m itching to try this out, but unfortunately don’t have an Android tablet. I love my iPad mini for lots of reasons, but the more restricted nature of Apple’s OS means that it’s unlikely we’ll see a similar system on iOS anytime soon.

So, very exciting times. Here’s a brief demo video of OpenSesame running on a Google Nexus 7 tablet (in the demo the tablet is actually running a version of Ubuntu Linux, but with the new version of OpenSesame it shouldn’t be necessary to replace the Android OS). Let me know in the comments if you have any experience with tablet-experiments, or if you can think of any other creative ways they could be used.



Why every student needs a Google account


This post might seem a trifle umm… politically insensitive after recent revelations in the UK about exactly how much corporation tax Google pays (answer – basically none), but I’ve been planning it for a while, and unlike Starbucks (which should be boycotted at all costs, because their coffee sucks) Google is a little harder to avoid, and actually provides a whole slew of incredibly worthwhile, and mostly free, services. One of the first things you should do when you start an undergraduate course at a college/university is sign up for a Google account. Here’s why:

1. Gmail
You’ve probably already got an email address, but if you’re not using Gmail then you need to switch. The interface is brilliantly usable and customisable, and you get a massive 10Gb of storage for all your mail – more than you’ll likely ever need. The most important benefit though, is Gmail’s ability to pull all your current and future email accounts together in one place. Gmail can be set up as a POP3 client (here’s how) meaning it can pull email in from several different accounts and present it all in one inbox. You’ve probably got an account already, you’ll definitely get an account on your university’s servers, and when you leave and either go on to postgraduate study (maybe at a different university) or get a job, you’ll almost certainly get given yet another account. Gmail can centralize everything, and mean that you only have to check one inbox for all your accounts. You can even configure it so that it sends mail through, say, your university account by default, so people you contact see your ‘official’ email address. I’ve currently got five email accounts configured to read through Gmail, and I honestly couldn’t manage without it. Additionally, if you start using Gmail from day one, all your contacts and mail are saved in your Gmail account, and won’t be lost when you complete your course and your university account inevitably gets cancelled/deleted. Another benefit of Gmail is its ease of use with various smartphone platforms. Android (obviously) and iOS devices are designed to sync up with Google accounts pretty much seamlessly.

So, set up a Gmail account, and assume it’ll be your email address for life. Be sensible. Don’t choose a username like, or – choose something you’ll be happy to put on a CV when you leave college, i.e. something that pretty much consists of your name.

2. GDrive/Docs
In one sense, Google Drive is a simple online storage locker for any kinds of files you like, a bit like Dropbox, or any of the other similar services which have proliferated recently. You get 5Gb of free space, and it’s easy to set up file sharing for specific other users, or to make your files available for download to anyone you send a link to. In another sense, it’s a full-featured web-based alternative to Microsoft Office, with the ability to create/edit documents, spreadsheets or presentations online, collaborate on them simultaneously with other users, and download them in a variety of the usual formats. Use it for just backing important things up, or use the full ‘Docs’ features – it’s up to you.

One other incredibly powerful feature of Google docs are the forms tools. These can be used to create online forms – the best way I currently know of to create online questionnaires for research purposes. The data from the questionnaires all gets dumped into a google docs spreadsheet for easy analysis too – very cool. This page has some good tips.

3. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is pretty much my first port-of-call for literature searches these days, and is often the best way of looking up papers quickly and easily. Yes, for in-depth research on a particular topic then you still need to look at more specialised databases, but as a first-pass tool, it’s fantastic. You can use it without being logged in with a Google account, but if you’re a researcher, you can get a Google Scholar profile page – like this: Isaac Newton’s Google Scholar profile page (only an h-index of 33 Isaac? Better get your thumb out of your arse for the REF old boy). This is the best way to keep track of your publications and some simple citation metrics.

4. Google Calendar
Yes, you need to start using a calendar. Google calendar can pull together several calendars together into one, sync seamlessly with your ‘phone, and send you alerts and emails to make sure you never miss a tutorial or lecture again. Or at least, you never miss one because you just forgot about it.

5. Blogger
Blogger is owned by Google, so if you want to start a blog (and it’s something you should definitely think about), all you need to do is go to blogger and hit a few buttons – simples. That’s the easy bit – then you actually have to write something of course…

6. Google Sites
Probably the easiest way to create free websites – as for Blogger above, you can literally create a site with a few clicks. Lots of good free templates that you can use and customise.

7. Google+
Yes, I know you use Facebook, but Google+ is the future. Maybe. The video hangouts are cool, anyway.

8. Other things
Use your Google account to post videos to YouTube, save maps/locations/addresses in Google Maps, find like-minded weirdos who are into the same things as you on Google Groups, read RSS feeds using Google Reader, and oooh… lots of other things.

Honestly, the feature of Gmail should be inducement enough for everyone to sign up for a Google account, the rest is just a bonus. Get to it people – it’s never too late to switch.



Following a couple of comments (below, and on Twitter) I feel it necessary to qualify somewhat my effusive recommendation of Google. Use of Google services inevitably involves surrendering personal information and other data to Google, which is a large corporation, and despite these services being free at the point of use, it should always be remembered that the business of corporations is to deliver profits. Locking oneself into a corporate system should be considered carefully, no matter how ‘convenient’ it might be. This article from Gizmodo is worth a read, as is this blog post from a former Google employee.

Tablet computers (iPad, Nexus 7, etc.) for children with developmental disorders

A very minimal post merely to point any interested readers towards an interesting discussion going on in the comments section of a post on Engadget here. A reader asked for suggestions for a tablet and/or apps for his developmentally-delayed daughter, and a large number of people have contributed some useful ideas and links. Just try to ignore the (inevitable *sigh*) Android vs. iOS fan-boy squabbling.

Smartphones in psychology – how will you use yours?

This is the future. Oh yes, it is.

I’ve been thinking about doing a piece on smartphones in psychology for a while now – it seemed apposite given the death of Steve Jobs, and the release of the iPhone 4s – however the BPS research digest has just beaten me to it with a post entitled “Steve Jobs gift to cognitive science”. They cite several studies which have used several different kinds of smartphones (mostly iPhones) either to collect data using specific tasks or in some other way (monitoring activity/movement). The BPS article highlights applications of smartphones in research, but a quick search of the interwebs reveals that the studies it cites are just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of ways in which people are using this technology.

First, there are the studies which use people’s reactions to the iPhone as a tool to examine some aspect of cognitive function – this one for instance, is concerned with the phenomenon of evaluative conditioning, but uses the central question of why people like the iPhone as a way of examining the literature.

Second, there are the studies which use the computing power of smartphones (which nowadays are seriously capable computing platforms) to instantiate some kind of psychologically relevant function. This article uses the iPhone as a platform for a novel evolutionary algorithm which detects multiple human faces, and has applications in robot visual systems.

Next there are the apps which aim to provide some kind of therapy, and there are a lot of these. Here are two which claim to provide CBT therapy on the iPhone: CBTreferee and iCouch. This article discusses the use of an app which aims to promote behavioural management of migraines in adolescents, while this one is a review of the iRecovery addiction recovery app, in the context of sex addiction. Needless to say, a great deal of work clearly needs to be done in evaluating whether and how these kinds of tools could be used clinically, and my mentioning them here is just to point out their existence, and definitely should not be taken as any kind of endorsement.

Then there are the massive numbers of psychology e-books which are now available through the Apple iTunes store and various other outlets (the Android market, Amazon Kindle store etc.). Many of the ‘classics’ in psychology by authors like Freud or Havelock-Ellis are available for free, and there are also a huge number of modern textbooks available. By far the most eye-watering ones that pop up are an (apparently) exhaustive six-volume treatise on “The psychology of adult spanking” I’ll say nothing else about that, except caveat emptor.

A special last mention has to go to a bunch of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark who have demonstrated a working version of a smartphone brain scanner. Using a wireless EEG headset and a Nokia N900 they’ve been able to instantiate real-time visualisation and brain-state decoding in a totally mobile package. Pretty mind-blowing stuff – the video below shows various demos, and is well worth a watch.

Whatever comes along in the future, it’s clear that mobile computing platforms like smartphones are not going away anytime soon, and in fact they may even become the dominant computing platform before too long. Researchers and therapists would be well advised to engage with the technology as soon as they can.