We all know that mobile applications (apps) have the potential to help people increase their physical activity, but little is known about the action change techniques marketed in these apps.
The most common techniques involve providing instruction on how to perform exercises, providing feedback on performance and goal-setting for physical activity. A class analysis revealed the existence of two types of apps, educational and motivational, depending on their habit change techniques.
Mental health and habit change techniques tend not to be widely marketed in physical activity apps. Based on the available descriptions of the observed techniques in health behavioral theories, people may need multiple apps to maintain a healthy habit change.
Mental health and habit change technology have fallen behind and the unique nature of mental health services can make it difficult to develop a technology that successfully intervenes in human behavior. However, with advanced research geared towards habit change and mental health, an increasing number of organizations are innovating in this space.
Many symptoms of poor mental health are generally behavioral, and seeing as though most people now have smart phones at their disposal, access to technology that can monitor habitual patterns seems like an obvious next step. This technology can be used to assess patterns that are typical of a person who may suffer from mental health issues.
Dr Uri Nivo explains how this new technology could benefit people wanting to change or monitor their behavior.
“Bipolar disorder, for example, starts with a manic episode. A patient who usually makes five or ten calls a day might suddenly start making dozens of calls a day. How much they talk, text, how many places they visit, when they go to bed and for how long — these are all indicators of mental health and provide important insights to clinicians who want to catch a disorder before it is full blown.”
With fitness wearables and other popular smart devices that help people track their physical activity and well-being, it only makes sense that there would be a specialized app to support habit change and mental health.