New study using Google app to explore smartphones’ effect on mental health

A team of researchers at the University of Oregon in the US have partnered with Google to launch a research on how smartphone use impacts mental wellbeing.

The researchers will use the Google Health app to explore the benefits and risks associated with the use of smartphones.

Writing in a Google blog post, Nicholas Allen, Professor, at the University’s Center for Digital Mental Health said that mental health has become even more urgent during the Covid-19 pandemic as so many people have turned to digital technology to maintain some semblance of their lifestyle.

The new research will “uncover insights that help us all build a future where digital products may support us in living healthier, happier lives”, Allen said.

The findings will help “the research community and technology industry to pursue evidence-based product design, education and policy aimed at maximising benefits and minimising risks”, he added.

The four week-study, to be launched on May 27, will be open to adults based in the US and only those using an Android phone. The team will sample and collect direct, objective measures of how people use their phones, with their informed consent.

“We’ll use passive and continuous sensing technology to do this, rather than relying only on self reports,” Allen said.

The study will also use participants’ phones to directly measure many of the well-established building blocks of wellbeing, such as sleep and physical activity. Participants will also have the option to add relevant Fitbit data, including step count and physical activity.

Allen said that users will have to give “informed consent” to participate and that the data “will be managed according to strict ethical standards and will only be used for research and to inform better products”. It explicitly says that the data “will never be sold or used for advertising”.

Google’s Health Studies app was introduced in December 2020 with a study into respiratory illnesses. The app, in partnership with doctors, nurses, and health researchers, provides secure technology that can help improve understanding of health.

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