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Smartphone App Helps Deal with Negative Moods

Catch It screens

Screens from the Catch It app (University of Liverpool)

13 May 2016. A smartphone app created at two university psychology departments in the U.K. was shown to reduce the intensity of negative moods among its users. The team from University of Liverpool and University of Manchester reported its findings in the May 2016 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry Open.

The app, called Catch It, is based on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that explores relationships among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reveal unhealthy thought patterns that can cause destructive beliefs or activities. The core principles of cognitive behavioral therapy aim to identify negative or false patterns of beliefs, then test and restructure them. Addressing these patterns, say therapists, allows the individual with the therapist to develop healthier ways of thinking that replace negative beliefs.

Catch It — derived from the phrase Catch it, Check It, Change it — is structured as a diary for individuals to record their moods. The app is designed to help identify thoughts and styles of thinking associated with shifts in moods or particular emotions. Individuals using the app are guided through their thoughts and moods with questions that rate their strength or intensity, which are recorded in a diary format. The app can be downloaded for free at either the Apple iTunes or Google Play app stores.

The study, by the Institute of Psychology Health and Society at University of Liverpool and University of Manchester’s School of Psychology that developed the app, aimed to gather initial user feedback on the program. The app was offered to students taking an online course, Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture, which after 5 weeks had 3,369 people enrolled. Of that number, 285 or 7 percent downloaded the app and agreed to share their data as part of the study.

The team, led by Liverpool clinical psychologist Peter Kinderman, found the people downloading the app were generally female, ranging in age from 18 to 85 but with an average age of 48, married, and university educated. Nearly 2 in 3 of the people who downloaded the app (65%) tried it only once, while 17 percent used the app twice, and 7 percent used it 3 times.

Despite the small percentages, participants in the study recorded 676 entries into the mood diaries. The entries indicate the users, by and large, followed principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. Large majorities of participants correctly analyzed their thoughts and moods in particular situations, and were able to distinguish between thoughts and emotions that led to their moods.

When focusing on negative moods expressed by participants — positive moods were excluded since they were not the reason for the app — the researchers found the app helped reduce the severity or intensity of those negative moods. The team analyzed the difference in intensity of responses from the first questions, where participants record their initial moods, and the second responses after the app’s intervention. The data show the second set of responses have a lower negative mood intensity than the first responses, with a difference large enough to be statistically reliable.

Catch It’s developers expect to refine the app’s software to remove minor bugs, and conduct a more rigorous controlled trial. Nonetheless the initial results suggest the app could be a useful tool to address anxiety or negative moods.

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