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You may not have thought of the classic Atari video game Pong for years, but scientists think it may be the perfect tool for researching brain disorders.

In a paper unveiled today at the Brain Research Foundation’s annual Neuroscience Day, Leslie Osborne and Sangwook Alex Lee, both from the Osborne Laboratory at the University of Chicago, revealed how Pong, the 1970s tennis game — in which players try to get a ball past each other — is ideal for tracking eye movement. And that, in turn, could be a great way to help find certain brain maladies.


Understanding how human subjects’ eyes move, the researchers found, may help uncover new ways to diagnose disorders such as Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, or autism. At the same time, they found that understanding how people’s eyes move may help industry design better displays — things like car dashboards or web pages.

Osborne and Lee discovered that “when motion becomes predictable, gaze behavior is no longer captured by the same decision rule,” the Brain Research Foundation wrote. “Researchers hope to apply this information to quantify the interaction between target, gaze, and time. … In a clinical context, researchers hope that it will expand the toolkit for diagnosing brain disorders which affect gaze behavior.”

In order to test their theory, the University of Chicago researchers built a Pong-like game meant to keep a viewer engaged — following a ball back and forth across a screen — while also tracking their eye movement. This allowed them to measure the correlation between the ball’s movement and the eye-tracking. That data could then suggest, the scientists argue, the existence, or lack thereof, of one of the brain disorders.

In addition, the research involves creating a database of the recording of subjects’ gaze behaviors. That, it is thought, could be a “resource for neuroscience, computer vision, media design, and other fields.”




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