Researchers are using Google’s app to study the effect of phones on mental health

The University of Oregon is investigating the effect phones have on mental health, using Google’s Health Studies app. The aim of the study is to see how people actually use their phones and how it affects their well-being. A post on the company blog written by one of the project’s principal investigators says that the aim of the research will ultimately be to be able to help companies design better products and even shape policy and education in the future.

According to the blog post, researchers use the app because it can help them get a better idea of ​​how people actually use their phones. unlike other studies when people are asked to their own tracking and reporting using apps — a method that may be less precise than researchers would like. Researchers hope this app-based approach will allow them to find relationships that other studies have missed, such as how the amount of time you spend looking at a screen actually affects your sleep. They also hope that reducing the amount of work participants have to do will attract them a larger group of people. In addition to getting a bigger sample size, this can help them get data from disadvantaged and younger populations.

The researchers say they will collect “direct, objective measurements of how people use their phones” with “passive and continuous detection technology.” They also say that your phone can “directly measure many of the well-established building blocks of well-being, such as sleep and physical activity.” If you have a Fitbit, you can also choose to share some data from it. According to Google spokesperson Iz Conroy, the system uses “some of the same APIs as” Android’s built-in Digital Wellbeing system that tracks how you use your phone, but the “data is collected separately under transparent research protocols.” Conroy used the number of times you unlock your phone and the categories of apps you use as examples of what kind of data the research will collect.

The message says users must provide “informed consent” to participate and that the data “will be managed under strict ethical standards and used only for research and to inform better products.” It explicitly states that the data “will never be sold or used for advertising”.

The Health Studies app was launched in December 2020 with a study of respiratory diseases. People can use the app to sign up as participants in surveys, where it collects and aggregates their data so researchers can see trends for demographics, but not an individual’s personal information. If you’re interested in contributing to digital wellbeing research, you can: download the app from the play store and sign up to participate in the survey when it kicks off on Friday, May 27. The study tracks your phone usage and health patterns for four weeks.


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