New PhD position available: Improving engagement with mobile health apps by understanding (mis)alignment between design elements and personal characteristics

January 2021

Aleksandar Matic (Koa Health) and Lawrence Barsalou (University of Glasgow) are supervising this PhD project in the University of Glasgow Center for Doctoral Training in Socially Intelligent Artificial Agents.  Applications are open for the position that begins in Fall 2021, beginning with a year of funded masters work, followed by three years of funded PhD work.

Project summary:  A growing consensus has concluded that improving engagement with health apps requires personalisation at an individual level.  In this project, we will pursue two novel approaches for improving engagement with health apps.

First, we will conduct a retrospective exploration of previous app use as documented in the literature. Specifically, we will assess( a) personal characteristics of individuals who have previously used mobile health apps, (b) design elements (including intervention mechanisms) of these apps, and (c) outcomes related to app engagement (e.g., drop-out rates, frequency of use). Of focal interest will be how personal characteristics and app design interact to produce different levels of app engagement.  We aim to publish a major review of the literature based on this work.

Second, in a well-established stress app that we continue to develop, we will allow users to configure its design features in various ways.  We will also collect data about users’ personal characteristics.  From these data, we hope to develop design principles for tailoring future apps and intervention mechanisms to specific individuals.  A series of studies will be performed in this line of work, together with related publications.

This project is likely to focus on stress as the primary-use case.  In a related project, we are developing and evaluating stress apps that measure and predict stress in specific situations, linking psychological assessment to physiological data harvested implicitly from wearables.  In a third project, we are implementing behaviour change interventions in digital health apps to reduce distress and increase eustress.  Work from all three projects will be integrated to develop maximally effective stress apps, tailored to individuals, that effectively measure, predict, and alter stress experience.

Application sites: