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Science games explore link between brain development and mental health

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A new smartphone app, launched today by neuroscientists from University College London (UCL), will investigate why most mental health disorders start in adolescence.

Be Preview Pirate Market All brain games and questionnaires are embedded in an outer space game universe.

The ‘Brain Explorer’ app - developed by our 2018 Emerging Leaders Prize winner, Dr Tobias Hauser - uses insights from neuroscience research to investigate how the brain functions, in entertaining games designed for people of all ages.

By playing these games, people can learn about their own brain functions, and at the same time help researchers better understand how brain functions are related to the emergence of mental health problems.

Dr Tobias Hauser from UCL said: “We know that the brain changes substantially during adolescence but we do not know how impaired brain development causes mental health problems. This app will help us understand why mental health problems arise during adolescence.”

Understanding how abnormal brain development leads to mental health problems will allow researchers to build new models, aimed at predicting emerging psychiatric illnesses and helping with the development of interventions.

Tobias added: "I am truly grateful that the Medical Research Foundation awarded me the 2018 Emerging Leaders Prize. Not only did this allow me to further steer my research towards adolescent mental health, but it also helped me develop this exciting 'citizen science' project. Thanks to their support, I've been able to conduct the research that directly informed the app and helped develop Brain Explorer."

Dr Tobias Hauser

Everyone is invited to download the app and to contribute to science – old and young, with and without a mental health disorder. Tobias and his team are particularly interested in mental health problems that are often overlooked, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the app will not diagnose or give feedback on the user’s mental health, it will allow the researchers to study the mechanisms between changes in the brain and the development of mental health disorders.

All brain games and questionnaires are embedded in an outer space game universe. Users are rewarded for their contributions and can win trophies to unlock hidden games. They can compare their own brain performance to others and try to beat their own high scores.

This project is led by the Max Planck Centre UCL for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, and the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging at University College London (UCL). It is supported by grants from Wellcome and the Royal Society, Jacobs Foundation, and the Medical Research Foundation.

Find the app in Apple and Android app stores, or on

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