1920’s Factory Experiment Leads to App for Mental Health

happy girl

In an American factory in 1920, factory workers were involved in a psychology experiment conducted by Harvard university students to investigate the effects of environmental changes on productivity. The experiment was a simple one; turn the lights up and see if the factory workers were more productive, turn the lights down and see if they were less productive. What happened instead was the Hawthorne effect – a phenomenon that led to the factory workers productivity increasing which had nothing to do with the lighting and everything to do with being paid attention to. The workers were stimulated by the interest that was being shown in them and became more productive when they knew they were being observed.

The Hawthorn affect, discovered nearly 100 years ago is the psychology behind the new MoodScope app; a free web app to help people manage their moods. The app, like many others, asks members to monitor their mood every day. The difference is that if the mood recorded is low enough, a trusted “buddy” will be notified by email and be made aware that the user is in need of support. What the buddy does next is up to them; call their pal, email or text. It doesn’t matter. The basic principle of someone being involved is good enough.

How does it work?

Everyday a user rates their mood. It’s not a box ticking exercise, quite the opposite. A user is dealt a set of mood cards from ‘anxiety’ to ‘angry’ and clicks to flip the cards over or turn the card upside down to rate whether they are ‘a little’ anxious or ‘extremely’, for example. The results are tallied up and added to a graph where the user can pinpoint high or low periods and add a note to explain the blip. Nominated buddies are alerted if the user appears to be on a down trend.

The app has had mixed results. The buddy option has caused users to worry about changing the dynamic of a friendship; turning friends into carers. The graph however has proved a useful aid to show users that they can be happy, even in the midst of depression when they feel this to be impossible – the proof is the positive tips in the graph.

Of the focus group, 7.2 found it was useful to monitor mood over time. Some users however struggled in differentiating between similar mood words such as “jittery” or “nervous.” Others commented that judging a mood was tricky in just one space in time and their mood was liable to change over the day and difficult to pinpoint. Motivation was key, with one participant commenting that completing the mood test was “like going to the gym.” Certainly, towards the end of the pilot run there appeared to be a drop of usage as motivation tailed off.

The Buddy system

The Buddy system had mixed results. General concern and encouraging feedback from friends had the best results, humour the least with users with very low mood dips. The majority of users found it helpful to have a friend involved and one user commented that they felt essentially, less alone;

“A big part of depression is feeling alone and even if they’re just getting an email that says ‘so and so’ is having a crap day, then at least someone else there knows.” MoodScope Focus Group User

The World Foundation for Mental Health predicted on World Mental Health day that depression will be the largest global health burden facing the modern world in 2030. With over a 3rd of current depression sufferers reporting that they are resistant to anti-depressant treatment, the new MoodScope app will come as a welcome addition to help people manage their moods, or as a tool to manage patients while they are on waiting lists for treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Treatment or, as one patient pointed out, to get help in the first place;

“I think for a lot of guys I know who wouldn’t want to say ‘I’m struggling doctor’ I think that would be a great use to them. I think if people know about it in the privacy of their own homes they can try and help themselves … to identify what’s bothering them and maybe give them the confidence to then go a step further and see the doctors. That’s where I see its use as being.”


Moodscope https://www.moodscope.com

Moodscope IAP research downloadable from https://www.moodscope.com/about/how-it-works/demo