An app was developed to quantify human day-to-day thoughts.
The app is called Mind Window and is available for both iOS and Android users. The researchers who developed the app use a method called experience sampling, where data is repeatedly collected at random moments during someone’s day-to-day life.
According to Eric Andrews, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona who has been working on the app, the advantages of using experience sampling is that the information is very naturalistic. It allows researchers to get information about what someone is thinking without the influence of a lab setting or some other environment that is not part of their typical life.
Users are able to enter in their waking and sleeping hours. The app sends six push notifications throughout waking hours. Those notifications take the users to a survey that then asks them about their thoughts. Jessica Andrews-Hanna is an assistant professor in the cognitive science program at the University of Arizona and one of the other researchers for Mind Window.
Andrews-Hanna stated, “We are trying to capture people at random moments through their day-to-day life.”
Those surveys are also known as check-ins, where participants are asked about several characteristics of their thoughts. Questions range from asking about their thoughts on a certain time, place or person to asking about whether they were focused on the natural world or their memory and imagination.
Many of the questions are about what the user was just thinking about and how they were feeling. It also asks for information about their setting, such as who they were with, to gather more information about how they were thinking.
Researchers are interested in gathering a big data set from people all over the world about how people think and feel in day-to-day life.
By sending push notifications, the hope is that they can catch people in the moment and will get more accurate responses since users won’t have to remember things from the past. They want to understand why some people feel a lot of happiness and productivity from their day-to-day thoughts, whereas other people struggle with their thoughts in terms of their mental health.
The mission of this research is to uncover patterns of thinking that may be associated with conditions like psychological experiences, mental health and cognitive functioning. Those patterns may help to identify novel directions of treatment for those conditions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people may not have as many tasks as they are used to, therefore the researchers are interested to see how thoughts may have changed during this downtime. They have recently included questions related to the pandemic. Some people may use this time to set goals and plan for the future, whereas others need tasks to distract themselves from their thoughts.
The goal of the research, beside understanding more about human thinking, is to see if they can understand the patterns of thought that change in people. From this, the research can help psychologists develop better interventions that target those exact issues that people are having with their thoughts.
“If you go to a therapist they are most likely going to give you a therapy that they give everyone else, but with the app, we are able to get more personalized, individualistic data that may be able to lead to more personalized therapy in the future,” Andrews-Hanna said.
During the development of Mind Window, researchers made a lot of decisions to make sure that the information users provide is virtually anonymous to protect their privacy. They encourage users to create a username that lacks identifying information.
“Our research depends on accurate information and we want to make sure that users feel comfortable to provide us with that," Andrews said in an email.
Mind Window was released last month; therefore, they won’t be doing any significant data analysis for a number of weeks.
“Data from previous studies have shown links between repetitive thinking, mood, and temporal orientation of thought (whether it’s focused on the past, present, or future),” Andrews said in an email.
Studies also have shown age-related differences in thought patterns. Researchers of Mind Window are curious to see if the data collected will replicate those previous findings and help them to elaborate on the connections so that they can find the strongest possible understanding of the relationships.
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