Attrition from Web-Based Cognitive Testing: A Repeated Measures Comparison of Gamification Techniques

Jim Lumsden, Andy Skinner, David Coyle, Natalia S. Lawrence, Marcus Munafo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
427 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: The prospect of assessing cognition longitudinally and remotely is attractive to researchers, health practitioners, and pharmaceutical companies alike. However, such repeated testing regimes place a considerable burden on participants, and with cognitive tasks typically being regarded as effortful and unengaging, these studies may experience high levels of participant attrition. One potential solution is to gamify these tasks to make them more engaging: increasing participant willingness to take part and reducing attrition. However, such an approach must balance task validity with the introduction of entertaining gamelike elements.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to investigate the effects of gamelike features on participant attrition using a between-subjects, longitudinal Web-based testing study.

METHODS: We used three variants of a common cognitive task, the Stop Signal Task (SST), with a single gamelike feature in each: one variant where points were rewarded for performing optimally; another where the task was given a graphical theme; and a third variant, which was a standard SST and served as a control condition. Participants completed four compulsory test sessions over 4 consecutive days before entering a 6-day voluntary testing period where they faced a daily decision to either drop out or continue taking part. Participants were paid for each session they completed.

RESULTS: A total of 482 participants signed up to take part in the study, with 265 completing the requisite four consecutive test sessions. No evidence of an effect of gamification on attrition was observed. A log-rank test showed no evidence of a difference in dropout rates between task variants (χ(2)2=3.0, P=.22), and a one-way analysis of variance of the mean number of sessions completed per participant in each variant also showed no evidence of a difference (F2,262=1.534, P=.21, partial η(2)=0.012).

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings raise doubts about the ability of gamification to reduce attrition from longitudinal cognitive testing studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere395
Number of pages18
Issue number11
Early online date22 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

Structured keywords

  • Digital Health
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Tactile Action Perception
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • gamification
  • gamelike
  • online
  • stop signal task
  • attrition
  • engagement


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