Psychology professors use smartphone apps in study

(Originally posted on The Sojourn’s website on January 16, 2014)

Some argue this trend brings people away from their actual lives and can make them lose touch with others. But some IWU professors used today’s latest technology to bring smartphone users back to their lives.

Psychology professors Doug Daugherty, Tim Steenbergh and Jason Runyan created an app for iPhones and iPod touches called “iHabit” and tried it out on IWU students last semester by creating a gratitude study.

happiness-study-finalThis trio of professors came together in the summer to structure the study and decide what questions to ask students. Once school started, the team got help from a research lab of psychology students and a research methods class to go over the logistics of the study.

Professor Runyan said the goal of this study was to “help us start to notice patterns in our lives that we would not otherwise see and start to engage in thought processes and behaviors that we want to practice that we forget about as we get caught up in our day.”

More than 150 IWU students participated in their study by downloading the “iHabit” app onto their iPod Touch or iPhone so they could receive the questions.

The professors split the students into three groups and they were asked questions. Participants received these notifications every day for two weeks and were encouraged to respond to them.

The full gratitude group received a notification three times throughout the day asking them to name one or two things they were grateful for. Participants received a prompt each night to reflect on their day.

The control group received a notification three times throughout the day prompting them to say what they had been doing in the past twenty minutes and one end-of-day question asking participants to reflect on how they spent their day.

The partial gratitude group received the same daily questions as the control group and the same end-of-day reflection as the full gratitude group.

The results of this study showed two types of people who used the app the most.

The professors concluded that participants who started off with a higher gratitude were more likely to use the iHabit app more often than others because “They have already recognized the benefits of being more grateful.”  Another conclusion was that participants who tended to be under stress used this app more because, “It was helping to relieve their anxieties and worries.”

Steenbergh said he likes to do these studies because it can encourage people to live their lives in a way more pleasing to God.

“Our lab is interested in understanding and promoting human flourishing and we can do this by encouraging certain kinds of practices such as gratitude that can shape people in positive ways.” Steenbergh said, “These questions help us to become the people God wants us to be and that we can enjoy life to its fullest.”

The professors are currently working on the app so the entire school body can use it and be able to reflect on their lives on a daily basis.


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