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Yale Researchers Investigate Mental Health Through 'Happiness App'

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Researchers at Yale are taking a new approach to try and understand mental health. A smartphone app allows people to play games, learn about scientific research and help psychologists uncover an equation for happiness.

Many factors determine how a person feels. Robb Rutledge is trying to find an equation that unlocks those complicated factors with The Happiness Project. It’s an app his research lab at Yale launched last month.

“One thing that makes it so complicated is that it’s different for everyone. What we wanted to do is both show people what happiness research is like and to invite them to participate,” Rutledge said.

Ten thousand people have already downloaded The Happiness Project and began playing games to contribute to the experiments. In one game, players are pirates digging for treasure and they’re not sure how much gold they might find.

“And we’ll ask you as you play the game how happy you feel, and by looking at data from thousands of people playing the game, we can start to better understand what are the things that determine how you feel from minute to minute, and what are the differences between different people that might be really important for understanding mental health conditions like anxiety and depression,” Rutledge said.

Rutledge said this research can help us better understand how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health.

“We already know that the rates of anxiety and depression have been going up and we don’t quite know what is that’s really causing that because there’s some people that are affected a lot more than others,” Rutledge said.

The app is accessible on all smartphones. Rutledge said that helps make this experiment more racially inclusive, because participants don’t have to sign up for a neuroscience study in a lab.

Copyright 2021 WSHU

Cassandra Basler is a radio reporter and editor at Connecticut Public. She has covered juvenile justice, the opioid crisis, immigration, social justice and inequity. You can find her reporting in New Haven and Fairfield counties. She previously worked at WSHU Public Radio and her work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.

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