A new computer software package, currently under development, will give the term “personal digital assistant” (PDA) a new meaning, helping users quickly and easily evaluate if they are operating at their mental best.
Tests on hand-held, personal digital assistant devices are being developed so astronauts can conduct quick, self tests to determine their cognitive processes, such as the ability to pay attention. These tests can be used to evaluate how lack of sleep, physical exercise, hormonal variations or even diet affect cognitive function.
Photo courtesy of L. Barry Hetherington for the NSBRI.
“Difficult tasks, such as an astronaut performing a space walk or a surgeon doing a complicated operation, require the utmost attention and vigilance. We’re developing a way for people to test themselves and make sure they are mentally up to the challenge,” said Dr. Stephen Kosslyn, a researcher on the National Space Biomedical Research Institute’s (NSBRI) neurobehavioral and psychosocial factors team. “Test results can help users determine if they need to eat, sleep, exercise, or better focus their thoughts on the task at hand.”
MiniCog, a new software package being developed and tested by Kosslyn’s research team, could help people in many situations determine what they are capable of safely achieving. The program is quick, easy to use, and designed for use on the newest-generation PDA. MiniCog contains nine cognitive tasks that evaluate attention, working memory, problem-solving ability, motor control and ability to switch thinking among cognitive sets. The battery of tasks does not have to be taken all at once, but rather a subset of tests can be used to assess certain aspects of the user’s mental ability at a given time. “Each task takes about two minutes to complete,” Kosslyn said.
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