Smartphone app detects when you are depressed


Why do some students do better than others? Why do students burnout, drop classes or out of college altogether? These are the questions Dartmouth University researched are trying to figure out using a smartphone app, called StudentLife, that can detect when someone is depressed.

StudentLife works by collecting data from various sensors from a smartphone like GPS and accelerometer. These sensors let researchers know where the students were and if they were active. The app also administered up to eight mood and stress surveys per day. Participants were kept in the dark about the true use of the app and were only told it was to track how long students were staying on campus.

StudentLife emotional and stress surveys

The app takes all this collected data and detects anything that’s out of the ordinary. What they found was that more sleep and in-person interactions resulted in less depressed students. They also found that more physical activity resulted in students that felt less lonely, since the app could detect when students visited the gym. Most interestingly, the study found that social interactions had a stronger correlation with good grades than attendance.

The study took place over one quarter (ten weeks) at Dartmouth University. Forty-eight students participated and completed the study, so the sample size is quite small. The researchers are currently working with the University of Texas Austin to test a larger number of remote students.

Her movie staring at a computerImage credit: her the movie

While StudentLife is in its infancy, it could potentially benefit more users by analyzing abnormal behavior. Imagine if this technology was integrated into voice assistant like Siri to check up on you when you’re feeling down. Maybe this will lead to a dystopia where humans have relationships with their phone’s artificial intelligence like in the movie Her.

Source: Dartmouth University [PDF]


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