Research Highlights

The Happy App

Need a lift? A new research-based app to boost emotional well-being is in development.

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A UC Berkeley PhD candidate is creating a website to boost emotional health.

Tchiki Davis, a fifth year social psychology PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, is tapping into the idea that technology can be used to improve emotional health with the concept for a new online tool called LifeNik.

LifeNik, which Davis likens to a start-up more than a research project, is similar to current brain training web tools like Lumosity, a website and application where users play games scientifically vetted to improve memory, attention span, and brain processing skills. Just as Lumosity has created games to improve brain health, LifeNik will create computer games to improve emotional health.

“We don’t see a lot of this in technology,” Davis said. “We see brain training, physical training, but we don’t see well-being training.”

Davis says that LifeNik will feature a variety of games designed to boost mental health and happiness. Relying on lab research from various areas of the psychology field—including cognition, psychotherapy, and positive emotion—the games will catalyze mental processes that elicit positive emotions from users.

“Right now, people can read articles online about emotional health but there is no way to implement them,” Davis said. “We want to take the research that was used in publications and make that accessible to the general population through online games.”

One of the planned LifeNik games is memory matching, where users connect identical cards containing positive information, such as an image of a flower or a positive word. According to Davis, viewing positive pictures can draw out positive emotions; keeping these images and concepts running through the mind can benefit a person emotionally.

LifeNik will be shareable through social media so users can become better connected; some games might include member interaction. “For example, if someone posts a positive picture on the site, another user could thank them for posting it,” said Davis.

Of course, users will have the option of complete anonymity. “Emotional health is still taboo in someway,” Davis says, “We want people to get the positive effects of social interaction, but not the negative effects of somebody potentially judging you.”

While continuing to work on her dissertation, Davis is building the site with her father, Michael Davis, a software engineer who lives in Colorado, as well as other UC Berkeley PhD students who have been providing feedback and support for the project. She hopes to receive grant funding in the coming months. “We are a dad-daughter team,” she says, “so it is unlike the typical start up in the Bay Area.”

Brittany Jahn contributes to Social Science Matrix on behalf of Berkeley’s Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces (ICHW).

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