Study: Mobile Phones to Measure Happiness

smartphone1Researchers at Princeton University are developing ways to use mobile phones to evaluate the impact of the environment or location on a how a person feels.

Volunteers were recruited to provide information about their feelings and locations. The team created an application for the Android operating system that documented each person’s location and periodically sent the question, “How happy are you?”

Cell phones can efficiently capture information that is generally difficult to record and be “in the moment.” This is important because these notes are likely to be more accurate than feelings jotted down after the fact. Since our society is so mobile and ‘on-the-go,’ this study hopes to capture a range of emotions associated with a geolocation. Over a three-week period, researchers collected information from 270 volunteers in 13 countries who were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5. From the information collected, the researchers created and fine-tuned methods that could lead to a better understanding of how our environments influence emotional well-being. The study was published in the June issue of Demography.

According to the authors, “The mobile phone method could help overcome some of the limitations that come with surveys conducted at people’s homes. Census measurements tie people to specific areas — the census tracts in which they live — that are usually not the only areas that people actually frequent. People spend a significant amount of time outside their census tracks., If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements we need to use techniques like this.”

Though many of the volunteers lived in the United States, some were in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The researchers noted that the team’s focus at this stage was not on generalizable conclusions about the link between environment and happiness, but rather on learning more about the mobile phone’s capabilities for data collection. “I’d be hesitant to try to extend our substantive findings beyond those people who volunteered.” said the lead author Palmer.

For more info and some preliminary results


Princeton press release

HIPPA Issues When Recommending Apps to Patients

healthapp2A study by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit advocacy organization in San Francisco, evaluated 43 popular free and paid apps that were made for consumer use. Apps used by health professionals were not part of the study.

Researchers reviewed the mobile application privacy policies and  installed and used the apps to see what data were stored on the apps. They also looked at the communication between the apps and the Internet.

The study found that many of the apps sent unencrypted data to advertisers, probably without users’ knowledge. Seventy-two percent of the apps exposed personal information that could include dates of birth, personal location, ZIP codes, medical information, email addresses, first names, friends, interests and weights. Some apps sent information to as many as 10 third parties.

Paid apps, which ranged from less than $1.50 to more than $10, posed less risk to users’ privacy. That’s probably because they don’t rely only on advertisers to make money, according to the study. According to AMA News, “Physicians might think twice about advising patients to use some mobile health and fitness apps. A July report indicates that many of those apps compromise patients’ privacy. Just recommending apps may put doctors at risk for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.”


Studies of Alcohol Use on Facebook



A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking evaluated 160 Facebook profiles to examine how drinking alcohol is portrayed in both text and images. A second component of the study sought to determine how friends react to these alcohol-related postings.

The analysis generated 2,575 pictures and 92 status updates referring to alcohol use, which represented about 6.50% of the pictures in the total sample and 2.90% of the text updates. These visual and textual references, as well as the peer reactions to these posts, mostly referred to alcohol use in a positive context (72.23% of the pictures and 72.83% of the messages).

The results of this study demonstrate that alcohol-related references are quite common, while negative reactions to these posts are seldom. The authors suggest that further research into the effects of these visual and textual messages is warranted.


A similar study last year in JAMA Pediatrics examined the associations between displayed alcohol use and intoxication/problem drinking (I/PD) references on Facebook and self-reported problem drinking using a clinical scale. The study included undergraduate college students (age range, 18-20 years) at 2 state universities with public Facebook profiles. The profiles were categorized into 1 of 3 categories: Nondisplayers, Alcohol Displayers, and I/PD Displayers.

Results showed that among 307 profiles identified, 224 participants completed an online survey that measured problem drinking using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) scale. (73% response rate). The average age was 18.8 years; 122 (54%) were female; 152 (68%) were white; and approximately 50% were from each university. Profile owners who displayed I/PD were more likely (odds ratio, 4.4; 95% CI, 2.0-9.4) to score in the problem drinking category of the AUDIT scale, had 64.0% (incidence rate ratio, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.27-11.0) higher AUDIT scores overall, and were more likely to report an alcohol-related injury in the past year (P = .002).

The authors concluded that Facebook displayed references to I/PD were positively associated with AUDIT scores suggesting problem drinking as well as alcohol-related injury. Results suggest that clinical criteria for problem drinking can be applied to Facebook alcohol references.


Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

JAMA Pediatrics

Camp for Technology Detox

JPCAMP3Welcome to Camp Grounded, an adults-only summer camp about two and half hours north of San Francisco. Approximately 300 people gathered there for three days of color wars, talent shows, flag-raisings and other regressive activities organized by Digital Detox, an Oakland-based group dedicated to helping technology-addicted people to “disconnect to reconnect.”

So many of us feel compelled to stop what we are doing and read and respond to text messages, tweets, check out a friend’s Facebook post, comment on a blog entry, etc. By removing these things that “supposedly ‘connect’ us in this wireless, oversharing, humble-bragging age, the founders of Digital Detox hoped to build real connections that run deeper than following one another on Twitter or “liking” someone’s photo on Instagram.”

Without the distractions of the Web, social media, television and breaking news, campers, ranging in age from 19 to 67, were invited to share with one another and learn about ourselves. For many, this was the first time in a decade or more that they have not had their smartphone as a 24/7 companion.

The rules of Camp Grounded were simple: no phones, computers, tablets or watches; work talk, discussion of people’s ages and use of real names were prohibited.

The goal of the Camp is “to connect people. There’s always going to be more media, more to do outside of where you are. The only moment that matters is right now.” Not having technology for a weekend and facing who you really are or are not, can offer powerful insights and reboot nature’s operating system.

Read more
Source: NY Times


Bio-tech Teaching With Access to Multimillion Dollar Lab Equipment

labsterImagine having access to the technology that we see on CSI or NCIS? Or being really able to sequence DNA or have a knowledgeable virtual assistant to show you how to use all their the cool new toys that can make you a Bio-Engineer?

Labster is a bio-tech education startup founded back in 2011. It has gone further than most by creating an entire virtualized laboratory for teaching bio-tech students without the need to purchase expensive lab equipment or conduct potentially hazardous experiments for real. Labster began selling licenses for its software to universities and schools, and also to corporations for training. Current customers include Stanford, Hong Kong and Copenhagen Universities. The software has been tested by more than 10,000 students over the past year.

Students and bio-curious folk could never get access to the hundred-thousand dollar “next-generation” sequencing (NGS) machines, Electron-Microscopes or even High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) simulation, they now have 24/7 access to a virtual 3D laboratory full of all these awesome machines, with real-life mathematical simulations of anything from basic PH base/acidity simulations to DNA manipulations and enzyme simulations (all made in Unity3D for web and iPad).

It is basically a science video game but because access to the highly expensive lab instruments and equipment its software is simulating can be dangerous, the access to some aspects is necessarily limited. It’s offering free user accounts for people signing up in the first three months. After which it will be charging for use — with a fee for each new virtual cases (going the downloadable content route), selling via the iPad App Store.

Labster website


Smart Pill: Ingestible Computing

As society struggles with wearable technology and privacy, along comes the “computer in a pill” that can monitor our internal systems. Inside the pills are sensors and transmitters. After ingestion, they make their way through the stomach and intestines and relay information.

One company, Proteus Digital Health, makes one of these swallowable health monitors which needs no battery, the body is the power source much like the science project of a potato what can power a light bulb – the Proteus pill has added magnesium and copper on each side of its sensor, which can generate electricity from stomach acids.

The smart pill sends information to a cellphone app through a patch worn on the body. The tiny computer can track medication-taking behaviors and monitor adherence to a prescribed regimen or it can detect a patient’s response to a medicine. It can also monitor movement and rest patterns.
Another company called HQ, Inc, makes the CorTemp Ingestible Core Body Temperature Sensor which has a built-in battery and wirelessly transmits real-time body temperature as it travels through a patient. It has been studied with firefighters, football players, soldiers and astronauts to evaluate the body’s response to extreme temperatures. The HQ and Proteus pills pass naturally through the body in approximately 24 hours.
The Proteus pill is FDA approved.

Use of Virtual Community of Practice in Residency Training

A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research evaluated the usefulness of implementing a virtual community of practice in a Family Practice residency training program in Australia. According to the authors, training for Australian general practice, or family medicine, can be isolating, with residents or trainees moving between rural and urban environments, and between hospital and community clinic facilities. Virtual communities of practice (VCoPs), groups of people sharing knowledge about their domain of practice online and face-to-face, may have a role in overcoming the isolation associated with general practice training.
A survey was developed assessing computer, Internet, and social media access and usage, confidence, perceived usefulness, and barriers, facilitators, and intentions to use a private online network for training purposes. The survey was sent by email link to all 139 residents and 224 supervisors in one of Australia’s 17 general practice training regions. Complete and usable responses were received from 131 participants.
Most respondents had access to broadband at home and at work. Residents were more likely to spend more than 2 hours on the Internet, and to use social media sites for non-work purposes On a 5-point Likert scale, confidence was high and was negatively associated with higher age, but not associated with training stage. Social media confidence was lower, with residents more confident than supervisors for almost all social media activities. Overall usefulness was scored positively, and was not significantly associated with age or training level.
The authors concluded that general practice registrars and supervisors are interested in using a private online network, or VCoP, for work and training purposes. Important considerations were concerns about privacy and usefulness that may be overcome by training and support to offset some other concerns, such as time barriers. Participants at an early stage in their training are more receptive to using an online network. More senior residents and supervisors may benefit from more training and promotion of the online network to improve their receptiveness.

Mind & Brain in the Media

Recent shows and podcasts of interest.

All in the Mind
An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behavior, and the fascinating connections between them.

The Digital Human (BBC Radio 4)
Aleks Krotoski charts how digital culture is moulding modern living. Each week join technology journalist Aleks Krotoski as she goes beyond the latest gadget or web innovation to understand what sort of world we’re creating with our ‘always on’ lives.

NeuroPod is the neuroscience podcast from Nature, produced in association with the Dana Foundation. Each month, join us as we delve into the latest research on the brain, from its molecular makings to the mysteries of the mind. We’ll also be bringing you the latest news from neuroscience conferences around the globe, along with special reports on hot areas in neuroscience.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for these links.

Teens not getting msg: Don’t txt n drive!

According to a study presented Saturday, May 4, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC, nearly 43 percent of high school students of driving age who were surveyed in 2011 reported texting while driving at least once in the past 30 days.

“Texting while driving has become, a ‘national epidemic,’” said  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers, and using a phone while driving significantly increases the risk of accidents in this age group. The specific act of texting while driving has been found to raise the risk of a crash by 23 times, leading many to conclude that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the national survey every two years to monitor six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability and social problems among U.S. youths. For the first time, the 2011 survey included a question about texting while driving: “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you text or e-mail while driving a car or other vehicle?”
Survey results showed that males were more likely to text while driving than females (46 percent vs. 40 percent), and the prevalence of texting increased with age (52 percent of those over 18 years; 46 percent of 17-year-olds; 33 percent of 16-year-olds; and 26 percent of 15-year-olds).

Furthermore, teens who reported texting while driving were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as driving under the influence of alcohol, having unprotected sex and using an indoor tanning device.

The authors suggest that “By identifying associated high-risk behaviors such as these, it is our hope that we can develop more effective mechanisms to reduce texting while driving.”

Abstract: Texting While Driving Among High School Students: Analysis of 2011 Data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)

The Future of Mobile News

According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, half of all U.S. adults now have a mobile connection to the web through either a smartphone or tablet, significantly more than a year ago. A survey of 9,500 adults from late June to early August, found that nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 22%, now own a tablet device-double the number from a year earlier. Another 3% of adults regularly use a tablet owned by someone else in their home. And nearly a quarter of those who don’t have a tablet, 23%, plan to get one in the next six months. Even more U.S. adults (44%) have smartphones, according to the survey, up from 35% in May 2011.

The findings have “major implications for how news will be consumed and paid for,” says Pew. About 20 percent of the mobile news users surveyed said they paid for an online subscription in the last year.

News remains an important part of what people do on their mobile devices-64% of tablet owners and 62% of smartphone owners say they use the devices for news at least weekly, tying news statistically with other popular activities such email and playing games on tablets and behind only email on smartphones (not including talking on the phone). This means fully a third of all U.S. adults now get news on a mobile device at least once a week.

Pew Internet Study