New App Turns Smartphones Into Your Wireless Therapist

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While you're busy wondering how the government is tracking your behaviors via your smartphone, in the future your smartphone might be trying to influence your behavior based on your mood. And no, this isn't a smartphone-as-mood ring device, either - this is something that will tap into your personal psychology.

In what sounds like the psychiatric equivalent to a grocery store U-scan, psychologists at Northwestern University say they've developed smartphone software that can not only assess your mood but encourage you to do things that will improve your mental health.

By using technology extant in today's smartphones, researchers have developed a smartphone application, Mobilyze!, that can learn a user's habits and then develop a self-regulated system that can detect mood changes without requiring the patient to self-report distress. Psychologist David Mohr, a primary investigator involved with Mobilyze!, said he anticipates the software will create a positive feedback loop by encouraging users to involve themselves in rewarding and enjoyable activities they might otherwise not have done.

In a statement, Mohr explained the value of such a cycle.

By prompting people to increase behaviors that are pleasurable or rewarding, we believe that Mobilyze! will improve mood. These new approaches could offer fundamentally new treatment options to people who are unable to access traditional services or who are uncomfortable with standard psychotherapy. They also can be offered at significantly lower costs, which makes them more viable in an era of limited resources.

Although more research will be required before you see Moilyze! in an App Store anytime soon, initial results are promising. Seven adult volunteers suffering from depression entered mood-related data along with other activity information in order to create a baseline from which the smartphone software could detect potential negative moods. Over time, the volunteers reported reduced symptoms of depression. However, this was only after an eight-week period. A longitudinal study with more depth might inspire greater confidence in the efficacy of Mobylize!.

Also: the success of Mobilyze! seems heavily dependent on the indispensable fact that, yes, we wil never not have smartphones. Against that fact I really cannot argue. We're stuck. Might as well tether up and check in with Dr. iPhone.

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