Smartphones allow for quicker research on anxiety & depression

Feb 25, 2019

A University at Buffalo researcher used smartphone technology to study anxiety and depression.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley visited UB's psychology department on the Amherst campus to learn more.

Smartphone technology helped UB researcher conduct anxiety & depression study.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"The basic idea was to capture people’s experiences in real time - as they're happening with regards to negative and positive effects,” stated Kristin Gainey, assistant professor, UB’s psychology department.

Gainey authored the latest study to better understand the nature and common symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“How happy or sad or tense or excited they’re feeling and then to also capture various common symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Gainey explained.

135 people, already seeking some kind of psychological treatment, participated in the smartphone surveys three times a day for ten weeks.

Gainey tells WBFO News because so many people are carrying smartphones, it allowed the participants to answer brief and quick questions throughout their day, tracking their mood.

“What did you learn – what was kind of eye-opening?” Buckley questioned. 

Kristin Gainey, assistant professor, UB’s psychology department.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We all have certain like moods and emotions all the time that’s kind of shifting and just seeing how those little transient emotions can impact symptoms anywhere from a few hours to even a day or so later and I guess just seeing the extent to which these change moment to moment. A lot of these people are dealing with more clinical depression and anxiety, but even so it was sort of up and down throughout the day and various depending on what’s going on,” replied Gainey.

All the participants were all above the age of 18, but represented a diverse population of race and ethnicity.

University at Buffalo's Psychology Endearment, north campus.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We also asked people about three positive and negative things that happened each day and so we are also in the process of linking that up with some of this other data and understanding the impact, you know, not just necessarily huge stressors or major, good things that happened, but just the little things we all experience that impact us,” Gainey noted.

Gainey said they can identify specific risk factors that would increase symptoms in real time. Smartphones could be used to send a person helpful advice or alert their mental health care provider.