June 20, 2011 Psychologists at Northumbria University have launched a commercial software tool to measure brain performance that will aid researchers in higher education and pharmaceutical companies.
The Computerised Mental Performance Assessment (Compass) software -- a battery of standardised cognitive tasks and mood measures -- is the brainchild of academics Dr Crystal Haskell and Professor David Kennedy and will be sold to other Universities and Educational Institutions.
Created and developed over three years with the help of technicians in the School of Life Sciences' Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre, the software has already produced a dossier of published research examining the effects of sleep deprivation, nutrients, sage, and red wine on cognitive performance.
Compass tests brain performance via a wide variety of cognitive tests, including word and facial recognition, memory tasks, and response time tests. It can be used to measure the affects of natural chemicals, food chemicals and various stimuli on the brain.
Though software packages incorporating such cognitive tests currently exist, Compass stands out in its flexibility and extensive range of cognitive tasks and mood measures available. The software system was custom designed and programmed to accommodate any experimental situation. Users can develop their own unique suite of tasks for research participants, and the tests can be undertaken by children as well as adults.
Compass has been used by researchers at Northumbria in various studies. One key study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found improvements in participants' brain function following the consumption of polyphenol resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine.
Professor Kennedy, Director of the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre, said: "All Psychology departments have a requirement for cognitive testing but many are using systems that need to be programmed specifically for each study. Often this requires the need to use specialist computer programming language and can be very complex.
"Compass pulls together everything that's currently available in the market but with vastly greater capabilities and at a lower price. It has applications for undergraduate, postgraduate and commercially-funded research."
Dr Haskell, Associate Director at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre, added: "One of the great things about Compass is the flexibility of the system, allowing the user to have full control over the design of their research, including customising tasks to suit their own needs. Another key feature of the system is that it allows users to have instant access to their data in the form of an excel sheet -- again this affords the user greater control over their own research."
Following the successful three-year development and testing of Compass, the software is now available for other research institutions to purchase.
The academics have worked closely with business consultant Ross Miller, of Miller Reconstruction Ltd, in commercialising the software for a wider market.
He said: "In this century this is the most advanced and comprehensive piece of software of its kind. Compass is very easy to use across all sectors. It has already been utilised very successfully for research within Northumbria University and also in Australia and New Zealand.
"I believe that Compass will make a significant impact on the commercial and academic research market."
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