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New app to provide data linking mood with brain function

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University College London (UCL) are hoping that a newly launched app, which tracks an individual’s moods and emotions, could lead to better management of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

As reported, the Emotional Brain Study app allows a person to gauge their mood and how it affects their performance. It also provides vital data on the links between mood regulation and brain functioning.

Background of the initiative

It follows on a research conducted in the lab, which showed that performance in a series of memory and attention-based tasks that were influenced by emotional stimuli can reveal a person’s capacity for psychological resilience.

It was discovered in the lab that performance on these types of tasks differs between individuals who are psychologically healthy and those with a wide range of mental health problems.

This includes disorders such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

The researchers are interested in confirming if what they’ve observed in the lab will be also be replicated in the world at large as people play the games in this app.

Using the app

Once opened, the app will ask users basic questions about their current mood, what they are doing and whether or not they are alone.

They are then presented with five different games that measure their capacity to perform cognitive tasks while being presented with images designed to elicit emotional responses.

In a second round, users perform the same tasks but with neutral imagery.

The games require participants to complete various memory and attention based tasks.

This includes remembering numbers that are presented over either emotional or neutral distractor images, or beating the app at a card game that uses neutral and emotional card decks.

There are also optional questionnaires in the app to find out whether a person’s current mental well-being is related to how easy or difficult it is for them to play the emotional brain games.

With the consent of the users, results of their performance in the various games will be anonymously recorded by UNSW and UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Benefits of using the app

Showing these patterns in a large-scale dataset, the researchers can potentially use these types of tasks to detect early signs of low mood in a non-stigmatising and fun way, particularly when thinking about young people.

One really valuable advantage that the app will bring is the ability to see people’s performance change over time, as well as getting data from people who typically would not come to a lab.

Another way the app can be useful to researchers is by providing more data that could be used to inform new strategies to improve the mental health of users and how they regulate their emotions.

Understanding how the abilities tested in the app relate to everyday mood will help determine which capacities should be targeted with cognitive training interventions.

Currently, cognitive training that particularly targets working memory is being used.

But, data from the app study may show that some people’s mood may benefit more from training other cognitive functions.

The training protocols can then be adapted accordingly to improve interventions aimed at increasing people’s ability to improve their emotion regulation capacity.

These cognitive training interventions can then be used to improve dysregulated emotions across a range disorders including depression and anxiety disorders.

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