Scripting Language – History

The ERTS scripting language is a special purpose programming language to define psychological reaction time experiments. It has been developed in the 90’s as part of the Experiment RunTime System (ERTS) which has been used by a 1000+ researchers over the years to collect data on cognitive tasks. We are proud to offer support for this popular language within Cognition Lab. This scripting language is enabling researchers to develop their own cognitive task paradigms without depending on deep programming skills.

ERTS was one of the first commercial software packages that leveraged standard PC hardware for performing cognitive experiments. Researchers could design their own experiments and collect responses to visual and auditory stimuli in millisecond accuracy.  Thanks to its elegant scripting language, ERTS became one of the most popular research tools in the 90s for cognitive psychology in a about 500 research labs world-wide. A large number of academic publications are based on ERTS including research on neuropsychology, functional brain imaging, and pharmaco-psychology. Thanks to its unique characteristics, until today the original ERTS product is running in many research labs.

Running under MS-DOS and Win98 OS, ERTS achieved millisecond accuracy for stimulus presentation and response registration. To enhance timing accuracy even more and support custom response keys, the EXKEY-Logic had been developed to connect simple TTL-based micro-switches to the parallel port of a computer. This optional interface became an important add-on to support professional lab infrastructure for clinical trials and functional brain imaging. With the ability to bi-directionally synchronize with EEG and MRI, ERTS became a very popular software package for stimulus- or response-locked physiological recordings in the emerging field of functional brain imaging.

Areas of Application

ERTS has mainly been used by psychology departments, research organizations, and hospitals. Germany’s national research center for aeronautics and space (DLR) used ERTS in several MIR missions to study psychometric effects of micro-gravity. Its reliability and ability to run in batch-mode made ERTS the ideal platform for implementing psychometric test batteries for clinical trials to measure drug effects in phase-I clinical trials.

Today’s Availability

Cognition Lab supports natively the ERTS Scripting Language to define own experiments on top of the many pre-defined task paradigms. The language has been extended to take advantage of media formats supported by modern web browser. It also contains new commands to define Likert and VAS scales. An ERTS script will run in the Cognition Lab as a web-based test application. Our free companion web site Cognition Lib can be used to develop, test, and share scripts online with the research community.

Availability of Original ERTS Product

The original DOS version of ERTS product is still maintained by BeriSoft Inc.  Since the hardware requirements of the original DOS implementation are not very demanding, ERTS can still be used on today’s PCs using DOS or FreeDOS boot image on USB memory stick or boot partition. Due to the disappearance of parallel ports and SoundBlaster compatibility a custom hardware configuration is required to take advantage of external keys and auditory stimuli.