Designing the therapist in your pocket: scientific approaches to designing applications that help you manage your emotions

Steve Whittaker, University of California at Santa Cruz

Mental health is a critical societal problem, 46% of people experience a major incident in their lifetimes, and 5% within a given year. These problems are likely to be exacerbated by COVID-19. However digital therapy holds great promise, as apps are inexpensive, ubiquitous, customisable and convenient. In this keynote, I will talk about the design, deployment and evaluation of multiple scientifically motivated apps that address emotion regulation, where two key problems are understanding your emotions and developing effective strategies for managing them. I will first describe Emotical, a successful mobile app that analyses users’ emotions and makes personalised recommendations about activities to modify users’ mood. I will then go on to talk about MoodAdaptor an app that supports strategic reminiscence; whereby users in negative moods are presented with positive memories to reflect upon. Finally I will address some broader issues by summarizing a recent analysis of the 50 most highly downloaded mental health apps. We identify ethical problems associated with misinformation and predation on vulnerable app users. I will conclude by reviewing scientific, ethical and engineering challenges in building such apps.


About Steve Whittaker:

Steve Whittaker is Professor of Human Computer Interaction at University of California at Santa Cruz. Probably best known for his work on computer mediated communication, he uses social science approaches to design novel interactive systems addressing important human problems. He is Editor of the journal Human Computer Interaction. He received a Lifetime Research Achievement Award from SIGCHI (Special interest group on Computer Human Interaction), is a member of the ACM SIGCHI Academy, and is a Fellow of the Association for Computational Machinery. He has also received a Lasting Impact Award from ACM CSCW, and been awarded/nominated for 10 Best Paper awards at ACM CHI, CSCW and IUI conferences. His current interests are personal informatics and computational well-being. His most recent book with Ofer Bergman is The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff, from MIT Press.