Neureka was developed by Gillan Lab at Trinity College Dublin. Our lab became interested in online research many years ago which lay the foundation for developing the neureka app, there were three main reasons why we decided to move research online.
Firstly, we wanted to increase the number of people who participated in our research. Mental health is very complex, there are hundreds of factors that can put one at risk for a mental health episode at some point in their life. Without large numbers of participants in our studies, we cannot fit these puzzle pieces together. There is much talk of the potential of modern AI techniques to allow us to put together multiple sources of data to develop decision tools that can one day assist doctors with treating patients more effectively. But without big data, this remains science fiction. One way to solve this problem, we reasoned, was to make it much easier to participate in research – to bring our research out of our lab and into your home.
Second, most psychology studies are based on WEIRD samples. That is, White, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic populations. Given what we know about brain health, about the role that structural, societal and socio-economic factors play, we simply cannot continue to base our theories and insights on white college students. We need to get off the campus, get out of big cities and reach people not normally engaged in research. Smartphones allow us to do this; to reach people from all over the world, from rural and urban settings, of all ages, gender identities, races and ethnicities.
Finally, we truly believe that we can one day use tests that tell us things about how your brain works to treat people suffering from mental health problems more effectively. When we think about this future, we realise that if these tools are to be practically useful, they have to “scale”. That means we want them to be available to everyone, at any time and for a low cost. What could be easier than completing a test on your phone, while you wait in the doctor’s waiting room or ride the bus?
With seed funding from the Global Brain Health Institute, we hired a software developer full-time in the lab in 2018 and released neureka in summer 2020. We hope that through citizen science and collaborations other researchers around the world, we can move the needle forward in the global fight against disorders of the mind.